Judge Rules California’s Assisted Suicide Law Unconstitutional

A California judge overturned the state’s assisted suicide law this morning, ruling that the legislature acted outside the scope of its authority when it enacted the End of Life Option Act.

The Act’s sponsors introduced the bill in a special session of the legislature convened by Governor Jerry Brown to address Medicaid funding shortfalls, services for the disabled, and in-home health support services.

Life Legal attorneys appeared in court this morning to argue that the End of Life Option Act, which decriminalizes physician-assisted suicide, is not related or even incidental to the stated purpose of the special session. Suicide is not health care.

Riverside Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia agreed, holding that “the End of Life Option Act does not fall within the scope of access to healthcare services,” and that it “is not a matter of health care funding.”

Life Legal filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings in March 2018, arguing that the law should be overturned because the manner in which it was passed is unconstitutional. We have argued from the outset that suicide has nothing to do with the provision of health services.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra opposed our motion, stating that legislation passed during special sessions is presumed to be constitutional. The Attorney General also argued that Life Legal’s plaintiff physicians do not have standing to challenge the End of Life Option Act.

Judge Ottolia ruled that doctors do have standing to bring challenges on behalf of their patients, especially in this case, as terminally ill patients would face significant difficulties filing their own lawsuits against the Act.

“We are thrilled by today’s ruling, which reinstates critical legal protections for vulnerable patients,” said Life Legal Defense Foundation Executive Director Alexandra Snyder. “The court made it very clear that assisted suicide has nothing to do with increasing access to health care and that hijacking the special session to advance an unrelated agenda is impermissible.”

Stephanie Packer, who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, was present at the hearing. After the End of Life Option Act was implemented, Stephanie’s insurance company denied coverage of life-saving chemotherapy treatment, but said it would pay for “aid-in-dying” drugs, which would cost $1.20.

Stephanie has spoken out against assisted suicide in California and other states, saying, “I am so grateful that California’s assisted suicide law was overturned today. The bill’s proponents tout dignity, choice, compassion, and painlessness. I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Choice is really an illusion for a very few. For too many, assisted suicide will be the only affordable ‘treatment’ that is offered them.”

It is anticipated that Attorney General Becerra will appeal today’s ruling.

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