California’s Law Back in Effect
Although Compassion & Choices succeeded in helping restoring access to the End of Life Option Act, it remains under attack.
In an encouraging turn since our last newsletter, when we reported that California’s medical aid-in-dying law had been suspended, an appeals court granted emergency motions by the two terminally ill adults and a physician represented by Compassion & Choices for an “automatic stay” to immediately suspend a lower court’s judgment invalidating the End of Life Option Act. The appeals court also granted a motion by Attorney General Xavier Becerra for a “discretionary stay” of the lower court ruling. The rulings reinstated the law, effective immediately. As a result, physicians are once again able to write prescriptions for aid-in-dying medication to terminally ill adults who qualify under the California End of Life Option Act … for now. In other words, eligible Californians will be able to access medical aid in dying pending further review by the courts.
“The appeals court made the legally correct decision by reinstating the status quo of the law being in effect, before the lower court ruling, until the courts resolve this case,” said John Kappos, a partner in the O’Melveny law firm working with Compassion & Choices, which has filed several motions in the case. “Ultimately, we are confident the courts will rule the law is constitutional and valid.”
The ultimate fate of the California End of Life Option Act stands in legal limbo, however. This victory is only the beginning of what is likely to be a long legal battle in an already two-year-old suit. Winning this case in California will be expensive and time consuming, possibly taking several more years to resolve, because the lower court has ruled on only one of the plaintiffs claims: that the state Legislature violated the state constitution by passing the law during a special session limited to healthcare.
The plaintiffs also claim the law violates the due process and equal protection guarantees of the California constitution because it fails “to make rational distinctions ”between terminally ill adults“ and the vast majority of Californians not covered by the Act.” In short, even if the appeals court and state supreme court dismiss the special session claim, the case may be sent back to the lower court to resolve the other claims and then be appealed to higher courts again.
“This stay is a huge win for many terminally ill Californians with six months or less to live because it could take years for the courts to resolve this case,” explains Compassion & Choices National Director of Legal Advocacy Kevin Diaz, who continues to work vigorously on the case. “Thankfully, this ruling settles the issue for the time being, but we know we have a long fight ahead before we prevail.”