End of Life Option Act Is In Effect
California’s physician-assisted dying law, ABX2-15 (AB-15), the End of Life Option Act, took effect on June 9, 2016 and is currently in effect. Patients may request, and physicians may prescribe, life-ending medications.
In the 2018 legislative session, the California legislature approved and Governor Brown signed into law AB-282 which amends the California penal code to “prohibit a person whose actions are compliant with the End of Life Option Act from being prosecuted for deliberately aiding, advising, or encouraging suicide.”
The law was immediately challenged in courts. On the day the Act went into effect, a group of anti-choice physicians filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the Act’s implementation. Their argument was twofold: the law is unconstitutional because it was passed during a special legislative session dedicated to healthcare and the law is not related to health care; the law is invalid because it violates equal protections and puts doctors in harm’s way.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia denied the request for an injunction to stop the new law from taking effect. However, the Judge allowed a portion of the suit to proceed.
- May 15 – Judge Ottolia grants, in a temporary, verbal ruling, 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.
- May 21 – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra appeals and requests a stay of the May 15 ruling in order to allow the law to remain in effect during the litigation process.
- May 23 – California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal denies the AG’s request to stay the May 15 ruling.
- May 25 – Judge Ottolia issues a formal, written ruling confirming the law is void as unconstitutional. Implementation of the law is halted.
- May 30 – Judge Ottolia rejects a motion, filed by terminally ill Californians, to reverse his May 25 ruling.
- June 15 – The 4th Court of Appeal stays the lower court ruling which nullified the law. The End of Life Option Act is reinstated while the Court considers the case further. The Court also vacates the upcoming trial.
- July 18, 2018 – Death with Dignity National Center files an amicus curiae brief in support of the California Attorney General.
- August 30 – The appellate court issues a tentative ruling overturning the lower court’s decision against the law based on the plaintiffs’ lack of standing; oral arguments are scheduled for October 9. The law continues to be in effect.
- November 27 – The 4th Court of Appeal overturns the district court decision nullifying the End of Life Option Act, ruling the physician plaintiffs who had brought the suit forward had no standing to do so because they are in no way harmed by the Act.
- January 8 – Plaintiffs petitioned for the California Supreme Court to review the Fourth Court of Appeal decision, arguing they have standing (or satisfy an exception to standing requirements). They also ask the the California Supreme Court consider the substantive constitutional issues of the law.
- An August 2015 poll by UC Berkley’s Institute of Governmental Studies showed 76 percent of Californians support death with dignity legislation in their state.
- An October 2015 Stanford University poll showed 72.5 percent of Californians support the then-proposed law.
The California Medical Society changed its position on the then-proposed law from opposed to neutral in June 2015.
The California law is a result of 25 years of work. Death with Dignity Political Fund has provided strategic support for the effort in California.
Resources and Additional Information
About the Statute and Its Implementation
- Full text of ABX2-15
- California Governor Jerry Brown’s signing message of ABX2-15
- California Department of Public Health
- “The Impact of Death with Dignity on Healthcare” – our white paper on the issue
About the Legal Challenge
- Riverside Superior Court’s case report for Ahn v. Hestrin
- California 4th Court of Appeal case report for Ahn v. Hestrin
- Death with Dignity’s Amicus Curiae Brief in Support of Defendants and Petitioners Attorney General of the State of California
Resources for Patients
- “Death with Dignity in California” – our handout on the End of Life Option Act
- California Death with Dignity
- Forms for patients