April 18, 2024

California judge overturns assisted suicide

Lawmakers are planning an appeal.

A California judge has sparked uproar after ruling that the state’s assisted suicide law was unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, Judge Daniel A. Ottolia of the Riverside County Superior Court ruled that the 2015 End of Life Option Act was passed in an unconstitutional manner, and gave the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra five days to file an appeal before the law was invalidated.

Importantly, Judge Ottolia’s decision did not pertain to the content of the Act, but rather to the manner in which was enacted.

Ottolia said that the summer 2015 extraordinary session of the California Legislature in which the bill was enacted was supposed to be limited to matters of health finance; assisted suicide legislation falls outside of the domain of health finance. The scope of the special session was outlined in a Proclamation by California governor Jerry Brown, who later that year signed the bill into law. Assisted suicide is not mentioned in the Proclamation.

Opponents of the End of Life Option Act welcomed the decision.

“We're very satisfied with the court's decision today,” said Stephen G. Larson, lead counsel for a group of doctors who sued in 2016 to stop the law. “The act itself was rushed through the special session of the Legislature and it does not have any of the safeguards one would expect to see in a law like this”.

But supporters of the Act were scathing of the decision. Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, the Stockton Democrat who carried the bill, said Californians who are in the process of obtaining life-ending drugs through the law have had “the carpet ripped out from under their feet”.

End-of-Life law expert Thaddeus Pope believes that the decision is questionable. Pope wrote in a recent blog post:  

…the Governor’s Proclamation mentioned both healthcare finance and healthcare generally. Therefore, pursuant to state supreme court precedent that interprets the special session clause of the constitution, the legislature had the power to enact “any” healthcare related legislation during the special session. It strains credulity to suggest that the End Of Life Option Act, which focuses on regulating physician-patient interactions, does not relate to healthcare.  

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that he strongly disagreed with the ruling, and that he plans to file an appeal.

California judge overturns assisted suicide
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