January 23, 2019
California assisted death law overturned in court
RIVERSIDE--A judge in Riverside County on Tuesday overturned California's controversial assisted death law nearly two years after it took effect, ruling that the Legislature improperly passed the measure during a special session on health care funding.

The court is holding its judgment for five days, according to representatives for supporters and opponents of the law, to give Attorney General Xavier Becerra time to file an emergency appeal.

"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."

Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, the assisted death law allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients with six months or less to live. Proponents say the option provides dignity to terminally ill patients by affording them more control over the end of their lives.

But the bill originally fell short that year amid opposition from oncologists, Catholic hospitals, clergy and disability rights groups, who argued that the policy was immoral and could have a detrimental impact on the availability of care for the state's most vulnerable patients.

After failing in the regular legislative session, lawmakers successfully revived the assisted death proposal in a special session called by Brown to find a source of funding for public health programs.

Larson said his clients are most concerned about a lack of protections in the law, including an inadequate definition of terminal illness and a provision exempting doctors who prescribe the lethal drugs from liability. But he said they also challenged the manner in which the law was passed, an argument the judge sided with on Tuesday.

"That special session was called to address funding shortages caused by Medi-Cal," Larson said. "It was not called to address the issue of assisted suicide."

Compassion & Choices, the advocacy group that led the effort to legalize assisted death in California, objected to the judge's interpretation.

"He's not acknowledging it's a health care issue, even though we believe it is," spokesman Sean Wherley said. "It deals with medication."

In the first six months after the law took effect in 2016, 111 individuals died from taking lethal drugs prescribed by their doctors. (Source: The Sacramento Bee)
Story Date: May 20, 2018
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