Group Urges Calif. AG to File Immediate Appeal to Suspend Judgment Invalidating Medical Aid-in-Dying Law
Compassion & Choices urges the California attorney general to immediately file an appeal with a state appellate court to suspend a lower court judgment today invalidating the End of Life Option Act. Appealing the ruling filed last night by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia would preserve access to the law until the appeals process is completed or future ruling from the courts.
Similar to laws in Washington, D.C. and six other states, the California law gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to request prescription medication they can decide to take to end unbearable suffering and die peacefully in their sleep.
Last week, Judge Ottolia granted plaintiffs’ motion in the case, Ahn vs. Hestrin — Case RIC1607135, to invalidate the law because he claimed the legislature violated the state constitution by passing it during a special session limited to health care issues. He gave Attorney General Xavier Becerra five days to appeal the ruling, and the attorney general did so on Monday.
On Wednesday, the 4th District Circuit of Appeal denied a separate motion for a stay, but ordered the plaintiffs to show cause why the appellate court should not overturn the ruling in 25 days. Despite the appellate court’s denial of the stay, Judge Ottolia’s original ruling didn’t suspend the law because he had not yet issued a judgment giving effect to his decision reflected in his order last week.
“We urge Attorney General Becerra to immediately file a Notice of Appeal of Judge Ottolia’s ruling, and reassure the public that a mandatory stay preserving the law during the appeal is in effect,” said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices, which filed an amicus brief defending the law. “The law should remain in effect until the appeals process ends, but the Attorney General must act today, so dying Californians with only weeks or days left to live still have access to this palliative care option to peacefully end needless suffering at life’s inevitable end.”
“The enactment fell within the scope of the special session called, in part, to consider efforts to ‘improve the efficiency and efficacy of the health care system … and improve the health of Californians,’” said the attorney general’s appeal of Judge Ottolia’s ruling last week filed in the 4th District Court of Appeal. “As the Governor indicated, the Act deals with pain, suffering, and the comfort of having the health care options afforded by the Act.”
“The California Supreme Court has ruled against these kind of narrow interpretations of the governor’s special session proclamations in the past, so there is no reason to believe that would change in this case,” said John C. Kappos, a partner in the O’Melveny law firm representing Compassion & Choices, which led the campaign to pass the law. “We are confident that the state constitution — and legal precedents interpreting it — support our position and we ultimately will win this case.”
“It is inhumanely cruel that a judge would take away this health care option to enable dying Californians like me to peacefully end intolerable suffering,” said Matt Fairchild, a 48-year-old, retired Army staff sergeant in Burbank who advocated for the law and takes 26 medications to manage his symptoms from terminal melanoma that has spread to his bones, lungs and brain. “I am counting on Attorney General Becerra to immediately appeal this ruling and defend this law that other dying Californians desperately need.”
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.
California is one of seven states — including Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Hawai‘i — as well as the District of Columbia, that have authorized medical aid in dying. Collectively, these eight jurisdictions represent nearly one out of five Americans (19%) and have 40 years of combined experience safely using this end-of-life care option.