Lead plaintiff Christy O’Donnell of Santa Clarita participates in a post-hearing news conference in San Diego. (Photo: Compassion & Choices)
A California superior court has ruled that a lawsuit to overturn the California End of Life Option Act will proceed to trial to determine the merits of the case (see Ahn vs. Hestrin — Case RIC1607135).
For now, the one-year-old End of Life Option Act remains in effect because the court previously rejected the plaintiffs’ motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
The plaintiffs — Life Legal Defense Foundation, American Academy of Medical Ethics and several physicians — filed the lawsuit against the California Attorney General and Riverside County District Attorney the day before the End of Life Option Act took effect on June 9, 2016.
The lawsuit claims the law violates the due process and equal protection guarantees of the U.S. and California constitutions because it fails “to make rational distinctions” between terminally ill adults “and the vast majority of Californians not covered by the Act.” The suit also claims the legislature did not have the legal authority to pass the law during a special session on health care.
The law gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to request and obtain a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully in their sleep when no other palliative care treatment relieves their unbearable suffering.
The legislation had passed in October 2015 following the highly publicized case involving Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life in 2014.
Christy O’Donnell, a 47-year-old Valencia resident and former LAPD sergeant and lawyer, was another proponent of passing California’s End of Life Option Act. She strongly supported the law’s passing after she was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and brain, liver, lung, rib and spine cancer in June 2014.
The lead plaintiff in a suit that helped move California to pass the law, O’Donnell died in early February 2016 at her Valencia home.
Last July, the court accepted a friend-of-the-court brief urging it to deny the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction filed by the O’Melveny law firm on behalf of Compassion & Choices, a national organization promoting end-of-life choice that successfully advocated for the legislature to pass the law.
The brief asserted that if the End of Life Option Act was overturned, terminally ill Californians “will be forced to live through painful and prolonged deaths.”
“We are disappointed in the court’s ruling today, but we are relieved the law remains in effect for now because the overwhelming majority of Californians across the political and religious spectrum support this end-of-life option,” said John C. Kappos, a partner in the O’Melveny law firm representing Compassion & Choices. “Ultimately, we are confident the court will rule the legislature duly passed the End of Life Option Act and it is a perfectly valid law.”
Earlier this month, Compassion & Choices released a report showing that at least 504 Californians have received prescriptions for medical aid in dying over the last year.
“Overturning the End of Life Option Act would have devastating consequences for terminally ill Californians and their families,” said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “While we respect the plaintiffs’ personal opposition to the law, they don’t have to participate in it. They certainly should not be able to take away the ability of other doctors to offer this option to dying patients to peacefully end their suffering.”
California is one of six states — including Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — as well as the District of Columbia, that have authorized medical aid in dying. Collectively, these seven jurisdictions represent nearly one out of five Americans (18 percent).
About Compassion & Choices
Compassion & Choices is the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice for the end of life, with 450,000 supporters nationwide. For more information, visit www.CompassionAndChoices.org
This article is based on a press release from Compassion & Choices.