California’s physician-assisted dying law, ABX2-15 (AB-15), the End of Life Option Act, took effect on June 9, 2016. The law was immediately challenged in courts and implementation was temporarily halted from May 25 to June 15, 2015, when the 4th Court of Appeal stayed a lower court ruling which had overturned the law. As of June 15, 2018, the End of Life Option Act is the law of the state of California, pending any future rulings to the contrary.
On 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.
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 as unconstitutional. The California End of Life Option Act is not in effect until further notice. Physicians may not write any prescriptions under the law.
The AG has filed a motion to vacate the May 25 ruling; arguments will be heard on June 29.
2018 Legislative Session
In the 2018 legislative session, Assembly Member Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr. (D-Los Angeles) filed a bill, AB 282, updating the state’s Penal Code to say that actions undertaken under the End of Life Option Act are exempted from prosecution for aiding suicide. The bill passed unanimously in the Committee on Public Safety on May 15, 2018, and heads to the Senate floor for a vote.
In addition, in February 2018, California State Senator Morrell (R) filed SB 1336, which would require the patient inform their physician of reasons, selected from a list of four, for requesting the meds, and the bill would also make changes to the annual report. The bill was defeated in committee.
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.
In the 2016 session, we proposed a bill that would have created a toll-free telephone line, operated by the California Department of Public Health, providing unbiased information to Californians about their rights and responsibilities under the new End of Life Option Act. SB 1002, the End of Life Option Telephone Number, passed out of the Senate Committee on Health on March 30, 2016, 5 to 2, but then got voted down in the Appropriations Committee. Instead, the California Department of Public Health features all pertinent information on its website.
California State Senators Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and Lois Wolk (D-Davis) introduced SB 128, End of Life Option Act, on January 21, 2015. The bill sailed through the Senate but was pulled from consideration in the Assembly due to insufficient support.
Assembly Members Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), and several others introduced an amended version of SB 128, in an extraordinary legislative session dedicated to healthcare. Both the Assembly and the Senate approved the bill in September, on a 42 to 33 and 23 to 14 vote, respectively.
Governor Brown signed the bill on October 5.
The California Medical Society changed its position on the then-proposed law from opposed to neutral in June 2015.
The California law came after 25 years of effort. Death with Dignity Political Fund has provided strategic support for the effort in California.
- Full text of ABX2-15
- California Governor Jerry Brown’s signing message of ABX2-15
- Bill history for AB 282
- Implementation forms – Written Request for Medications; Interpreter Declaration; Final Attestation
- California Department of Public Health
- First Annual Report (partial year from June 9 to December 31, 2016)
- “Death with Dignity in California” – our handout on the End of Life Option Act
- California Death with Dignity