UPDATE June 15, 2018: The 4th Court of Appeal today granted the California Attorney General’s motion to stay the Riverside County Superior Court ruling which had overturned the End of Life Option Act. The statute is again the law in the state of California, pending any future rulings to the contrary.
In a statement commenting on the ruling, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said, “Today the Fourth District Appellate Court granted our request for immediate stay in People ex rel. Xavier Becerra v. Ahn, reinstating California’s End of Life Option Act while litigation is ongoing. This ruling provides some relief to California patients, their families, and doctors who have been living in uncertainty while facing difficult health decisions. Today’s court ruling is an important step to protect and defend the End of Life Option Act for our families across the state.”
The events of the past few weeks in California have caused confusion and distress among the state’s residents and sparked outrage among death with dignity supporters nationwide. We wanted to provide you with an overview of where things stand and what’s next.
End of Life Option Act No Longer in Effect
On May 25, 2018, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia overturned the End of Life Option Act.
Physicians may not write any new prescriptions under the law; the process of obtaining medication from physicians stops for all patients who had already initiated the process at the time of the ruling.
How We Got Here
The current legal challenge is the latest salvo by religious-right opponents who have been working for years to overturn California’s law.
On June 9, 2016, the day the Act went into effect, a group of anti-choice physicians filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the Act’s implementation. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia denied their request for an injunction to stop the new law from taking effect. However, the Judge allowed a portion of the suit to proceed; a trial is set for September 28, 2018.
Fast forward to last month. On May 15, 2018, Judge Ottolia granted a motion of the law’s opponents, saying the California State Legislature violated the state constitution by passing the law during a special session limited to healthcare.
On May 21, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra appealed the ruling and requested a stay of the May 15 ruling; on May 23, the 4th District Court of Appeal denied the AG’s request to stay the May 15 ruling.
On May 25, Judge Ottolia issued a formal, written ruling confirming the law is void and unconstitutional.
“This ruling should not stand”
This legal challenge, influenced by the same religious-rights groups who have worked for years to derail the law, is not based on the merits of the bill itself. Indeed, it has nothing to do with aid in dying.
California Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning, who co-authored the law, took issue with the judge’s interpretation.
“This ruling should not stand as it is based on prejudice toward the Act and an erroneous interpretation of law,” Monning wrote in an op-ed for the Monterey County Herald. “Our legislation was fully vetted in committee hearings and in both houses of the legislature. Gov. [Jerry] Brown provided a compelling statement detailing his support for the law.
“It is confounding to understand why those who oppose the Act would seek to impose their will on the human right of the terminally ill to exercise voluntary control over their own medical decisions.”
Attorney General Becerra has filed a motion to vacate the May 25 ruling; oral arguments will be heard on June 29. We fully support the State of California’s efforts to stay this outrageous ruling so that the law can be reinstated.
In the meantime, we are working to join the suit by filing an amicus brief.
A Winning Record
The court battle will be long.
As we know from our successful efforts to defend physician-assisted dying laws in both federal and state courts, the appeals process is slow and our opponents are persistent, presenting numerous frivolous arguments to overturn hard-won laws. They’re using the same line of arguments they did in Oregon 25 years ago, in Washington 10 years ago, and in Vermont two years ago.
They ultimately failed again and again, and they will fail again in California, too.
Stand with us
The law has provided dying Californians with peace of mind and control over their final days for nearly two years. To have it overturned on a technicality goes against everything we have fought for.
We will continue to fight this outrageous effort to take away the right to die with dignity from Californians—and all Americans.
But it is only with your help that we can win. Please chip in to defend the California End of Life Option Act today.
Featured image by Brian Wilkins.