California Superior Court rejects challenge to ‘aid-in-dying’ law

The California Superior Court [official website] on Friday rejected a challenge [application, PDF] to the state’s recently enacted physician-assisted suicide law. In June California passed the End of Life Option Act [text] which would allow “terminally ill” patients to be prescribed lethal drugs [JURIST report] if their doctor has determined that they have less than six months to live. Following enactment, five physicians, the American Academy of Medical Ethics (AAME), and the Life Legal Defense Foundation [official websites] requested that the law be immediately suspended since its vague definition for “terminally ill” patients subjects the law to abuse and may violate equal protection and due process rights. Judge Daniel Ottolia ruled that the law will remain in effect, but he allowed the plaintiffs to proceed with their lawsuit concerning the lack of safeguards against abuse. Opponents have primarily accused the law of allowing the coercion of terminally ill patients. However, the attorney general’s office have stressed that physicians may deny the administration of lethal drugs and that patients must be capable of independently administering the drugs.

The aid-in-dying movement has garnered substantial legal debate around the world in the past few years. In the US, four states currently have legislation that allow physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to some patients: California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. In Montana the state’s highest court has ruled that assisted suicide is not explicitly banned by state law or public policy, meaning consent could be raised as a defense in a potential prosecution of a physician. In July 2015 California lawmakersended a previous legislative effort to enact the End of Life Option Act, as the former right-to-die bill had been amended several times over the previous year. The law was hotly debated when 29-year-old Brittany Maynard moved from San Francisco to Oregon, which allows physician-assisted suicide, so that she could die on her own terms after being diagnosed with brain cancer. In May 2015 a Dutch court acquitted a man of all criminal charges for assisting his 99-year-old mother in committing suicide. Also that month, an 84-year old attorney, businessman and political candidate filed a lawsuit in Tennessee, challenging a law that makes it a felony for a doctor or another person to help someone commit suicide.

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