California Law in Peril | Compassion & Choices

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California Law in Peril

Compassion & Choices’ legal team (L to R), Kevin Diaz and Jonathan Patterson

A Riverside County judge declared California’s landmark End of Life Option Act unconstitutional, rendering the law inaccessible. Compassion & Choices is working nonstop to restore it.

Last Thursday, May 24, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia filed a judgment in the two-year-old lawsuit Ahn vs. Hestrin seeking to overturn the California End of Life Option Act.

Judge Ottolia’s judgment invalidated the California End of Life Option Act that authorizes medical aid in dying as an option for mentally capable, terminally ill adults in the state to peacefully end their suffering if it becomes unbearable.

This Tuesday, May 29, Compassion & Choices filed a motion on behalf of a physician and two terminally ill Californians urging the judge to reverse his decision. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also filed a separate motion the same day to vacate the judgment on different grounds. The judge scheduled a hearing on June 29 to consider the attorney general’s motion but denied ours, so we are currently exploring the best possible option to appeal this ruling in a higher court where we will have another opportunity to reinstate the law in a more impartial courtroom.

Tragically, for now, unless another court ruling reverses and suspends this judgment, physicians are no longer explicitly authorized to write prescriptions for aid-in-dying medication under the law.  

This dire development followed Ottolia’s granting a motion May 15 to invalidate the California End of Life Option Act. He claimed the Legislature violated the state constitution by passing it during a special session limited to healthcare issues.

Compassion & Choices leapt into action immediately and has been working nonstop to restore access to medical aid in dying for terminally ill California residents, and ally Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed an emergency request to reverse this ruling within the five days he was given by the judge, unfortunately, to no effect. Staff across the organization, those on the ground in California and our in-house legal advocacy team in partnership with the California-based law firm O’Melveny continue to work hand-in-hand with all of the key stakeholders including Gov. Brown’s office, our legislative champions and the attorney general’s office to defend and protect this law, which has worked well in the state.

Last June, Compassion & Choices released a report estimating that 504 Californians have received prescriptions for medical aid in dying since it took effect on June 9, 2016. Last July, the California Department of Public Health released a report showing 191 terminally ill Californians received prescriptions from 173 doctors for aid-in-dying medication during the nearly seven month period from June 9, 2016 until Dec. 31, 2016; 111 of those individuals (58%) decided to self-ingest the medication.

Polling shows 76 percent of Californians across the political and demographic spectrum support medical aid in dying. This majority support includes 82 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents, 67 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of whites, Latinos and Asian Americans, and 52 percent of African-Americans.

Compassion & Choices National Director of Legal Advocacy Kevin Díaz offers, “This is a long process, and we have a very concrete plan to restore the law.”


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