Trial ends briefly blocking California’s assisted death law
An appeals court has formally ended a lawsuit that temporarily suspended a California law in 2018 that allows adults to obtain prescriptions for life-ending drugs, a loophole that advocates blamed on Thursday for a decline significant of its use that year.
California lawmakers rendered the lawsuit moot last month when they reauthorized and extended the law until 2031 while slashing the time until terminally ill patients who are expected to have six months or less to live can choose to receive lethal drugs.
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The 452 terminally ill Californians who received prescriptions in 2018 were down 22% from the previous year, when 577 people received the deadly drugs, before dropping to 618 who obtained the drugs in 2019.
Last year, 667 people obtained prescriptions. Every year, not everyone who received the drugs used them to kill themselves.
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Compassion & Choices, a national organization that defended the law, blamed the drop three years ago on a Riverside County judge’s ruling in May 2018 that state lawmakers acted unconstitutionally when they passed the law in a special session on healthcare in 2016.
The suspension of Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia was in effect about three weeks before an appeals court restored the law.
But the advocacy group said at the time that the decision halted plans for around 200 patients who had already started the process, while creating confusion and fear among doctors and patients of breaking the law.
Last year, another Riverside County judge ruled that lawmakers had in fact acted correctly and that doctors who took legal action to block it lacked the legal capacity to file the challenge. But the court allowed opponents to re-file their lawsuits if they could find patients to join the lawsuit.
Late last week, both sides agreed that the recent reauthorization and extension of the law by the Legislature, which was due to expire in five years, effectively ended the court challenge. The 4th Appeals District Court of Appeal accepted the parties’ stipulation in a one-paragraph order on Monday, without comment.
As of January 1 under the re-authorized law, the required waiting period between when a patient makes separate oral requests for medication will be reduced to 48 hours, down from 15 days currently.
The revised law also eliminates the requirement that patients make final written attestations within 48 hours of taking the drug.
The Life Legal Defense Foundation, which represented opponents to the trial, did not immediately comment on Thursday.
“We have always believed that the California legislature legally passed the End of Life Option Act in a special session on health care, because physician-assisted dying is a palliative care option to relieve intolerable suffering,” Kevin Díaz, general counsel for Compassion & Choices, said in a statement. . “But thanks to the re-authorization of the law by Parliament this year in a regular session, that no longer matters.”
California is one of 10 states and Washington, DC that allow physician-assisted dying. The others are Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington State.