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Court upholds decision overturning California assisted suicide

The California State Capitol in Sacramento (Pixabay)

A California appeals court denied Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s request for an immediate stay on a lower court ruling that overturned the state’s assisted suicide law.

The decision was handed down on May 23 by the 4th District Court of Appeal in Riverside. The court gave Becerra and other interested parties 25 days to provide more arguments as to why the court should grant the stay and suspend the lower court ruling.

The attorney general requested the stay after Judge Daniel Ottolia of Riverside County Superior Court ruled May 15 that the California Legislature violated existing law when it passed the End of Life Option Act during a special session dedicated to health care.

The 2015 law, which went into effect in June 2016, authorised doctors to prescribe lethal prescriptions to any patient determined by two doctors to have six months or less to live.

On June 16, 2017, Ottolia ruled that a civil rights lawsuit challenging the assisted suicide law could go forward. Five California physicians and the American Academy of Medical Ethics brought the legal challenge.

“We are very grateful and encouraged that California courts continue to find the law legalising physician-assisted suicide unconstitutional,” said Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference. “We realise there are many steps in the legal process still to go, but rulings seem to be accumulating against this terrible piece of legislation.”

“As we have said previously, a broad coalition of doctors, nurses, seniors and the disabled community, fought against legalisation and the shattering of the physician-patient bond of trust it represents,” Dolejsi said in a statement.

“The California Catholic Conference and our partners continue to advocate for high quality, widely available end-of-life care for all people,” he said. “For instance, California is yet to provide palliative care to all Medi-Cal recipients, but California lawmakers have approved funds for lethal prescriptions.”

The Sacramento-based Catholic conference is the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.

Last year in arguing against the lawsuit going forward, Becerra said that no one would be required to resort to the law. But he also said that terminally ill patients are different from others and therefore can be treated differently, and that patients who choose to end their lives have the right to have a physician help them do so.

But in a January 2018 hearing, Dolejsi said, “legislators openly spoke of the potential to expand physician-assisted suicide to minorities and other vulnerable populations.”

“They also spoke of ways to begin dismantling the few ‘protections’ written in the law,” he noted. “The message sent by that hearing to vulnerable populations is chilling and frightening.”