Compassion & Choices’ Legal Team Helps Achieve Another Win in Death Doula Case

A California court rules that regulations violate doulas’ First Amendment rights and cites our amicus brief in their decision.
February 24, 2023

Great news on Full Circle of Living and Dying v. Sanchez, a California federal case headed by public-interest law firm Institute for Justice: On January 24 the court ruled favorably, directly citing an amicus brief Compassion & Choices submitted in support. In the brief we advocated for the rights of death doulas to continue providing services to dying people and their loved ones.

The decision came after the California Cemetery and Funeral Bureau told Full Circle of Living and Dying, a nonprofit educational consulting group, to stop their work in 2019 because they were breaking the law by operating a funeral establishment without a license. To be compliant would have required building a funeral home with a dedicated room for storing or embalming bodies, and staff passing a funeral director licensing exam. But an end-of-life doula is not a funeral director. They don’t store or embalm bodies, and the licensing exam content is mostly unrelated to doulas’ work. What doulas do is help families plan for someone’s passing, and provide emotional support and assistance with any needs in the days leading up to a person’s death — often as unpaid volunteers.

Full Circle doulas and others brought suit arguing that the licensing requirements violated their First Amendment rights. The trial court agreed, finding that the requirements would indeed infringe on death doulas’ rights to free speech and “to pursue a lawful calling” by preventing them from offering their clients end-of-life planning advice or truthfully promoting their services. Notably, the court acknowledged and quoted Compassion & Choices’ amicus brief in their decision.

“Death doulas offer fundamentally different services than funeral homes and funeral home directors,” said John Kappos, a partner in the O’Melveny law firm who is counsel for Compassion & Choices on this case. “I am thankful that the court recognized these key differences and declined to expand the Cemetery and Funeral Act to require doulas to own a licensed funeral home.”

This is a significant win, but the case is not over yet. The issue of whether it was constitutional or not to require the doulas to become licensed funeral directors will be resolved at a future trial.

Follow this case and Compassion & Choices’ other impactful work in the courts on our Legal Advocacy page.

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VICTORY: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed the improved End-of-Life Options Act.