It is a heart-breaking story. A 29-year-old woman learns that she has terminal brain cancer. Her doctors tell her that she has six months to live at most. Seeing a future filled with seizures and unbearable migraines, she decides that the best option is to decide that she will die on her own terms. The problem? Her home state of California does not give her the option of seeking the help of others in ending her life.
This was the story of Brittany Maynard, a California woman who moved to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s legal option of physician-assisted suicide. She ended her life by drinking a fatal cocktail containing a lethal dose of prescribed medications.1 Following her diagnosis, Maynard also used her final days to become a vocal advocate for the cause of legalizing physician-assisted suicide throughout the United States.
Four states (Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Montana) currently give terminally ill patients the option of having a physician assist them in the ending of their lives. Since Maynard’s public battle began, 13 more states – including California – have begun weighing the merits of legalizing physician-assisted suicide.
California’s Proposed Law
In March, California’s legislature began holding hearings on Senate Bill 128, which has been named the End of Life Option Act. The bill, which was recently endorsed by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)2, would allow terminally ill patients to receive help from a doctor to commit suicide if they meet the following conditions:
- The patient must receive a prognosis of six months or less to live from two physicians;
- The patient must submit a written request and make two oral requests to a physician at least 15 days apart; and
- The patient must have the mental competency to make decisions about his or her own health care.3
Helping Someone Kill Themselves (PC 401)
Currently, California Penal Code section 401 makes it a felony to counsel another person to commit suicide, or to provide another person with the tools needed to commit suicide, such as a weapon, poison, or even “how-to” materials that provide advice on suicide methods. It is a violation of the law even if the person survives the suicide attempt.
A person who violates PC 401 is subject to punishment by imprisonment for between 16 months and 3 years, and a fine of up to $10,000.
If the End of Life Option Act passes the California legislature and is signed into law by the governor, a doctor who assists in the ending of a terminal patient’s life would have “immunity from civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action for participating in good faith compliance with the act.”4 This would mean that doctors could not be prosecuted under California Penal Code section 401 for assisting a terminally ill patient’s suicide. It also means that the doctor cannot be disciplined by the Medical Board of California, or successfully sued in civil court by the patient’s family or friends.
Contact the Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich
If you or someone you know has been charged with assisting a suicide, an experienced and skilled attorney may make the difference between a jail sentence and your freedom. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have been successfully defending clients against criminal charges for more than 30 years. Let us help you, too. Contact us today for a free, no obligation phone consultation.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney near you, no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.
1. [“The Final Promise Brittany Maynard’s Husband Made Before She Died,” Huffington Post, March 16, 2015, available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/16/brittany-maynard-husband-dan-diaz-promise_n_6875106.html.]↩
2. [Josh Richman, “Dianne Feinstein endorses CA’s assisted-suicide bill,” Contra Costa Times, March 17, 2015, available at http://www.ibabuzz.com/politics/2015/03/17/dianne-feinstein-endorses-cas-assisted-suicide-bill/.]↩
3. [California Senate Bill No. 128, as amended on March 17, 2015, available at http://leginfo.ca.gov/pub/15-16/bill/sen/sb_0101-0150/sb_128_bill_20150317_amended_sen_v98.pdf]↩