July 6, 2018 By Wallin & Klarich

In 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a landmark bill allowing doctors to assist certain patients in committing suicide.

The End of Life Option Act (ELOA) gave patients who had six months or fewer to live the right to seek life-ending medication and prevented criminal and civil prosecutions against doctors for providing these patients with life-ending medication.

However, since the bill was passed into law by Gov. Brown, there has been a challenge to it in the courts. So, where does the law stand now? Let’s take a look at the current state of doctor-assisted suicide laws in California.

Riverside County Court Declared Physician-Assisted Suicide Law Unconstitutional

In May 2018, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia ruled that the End of Life Option Act was unconstitutional. The judge stated in his ruling that the California legislature circumvented the law when passing the End of Life Option Act.

The court did not rule on the legality of physician-assisted suicide. Instead, it ruled that the law did not fall within the scope of healthcare services when the bill was debated during a special session of the legislature on the topic, thus making its passing unlawful.

Challengers to this law were a group of doctors who felt the End of Life Option Act was rammed through the process. They also felt that the law needs clearer definitions for what constitutes a terminal illness as well as stronger protections for liability from prosecution or in civil court.

Appeals Court Reinstates End of Life Option Act

After the court’s decision in May 2018, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra asked the Appeals Court to stay Ottolia’s ruling.

In June 2018, the Appellate Court issued an immediate stay, putting the End of Life Option Act back into effect immediately.

This means that, at least for now, Californians who are suffering from terminal illness will be able to obtain life-ending medications.

“This ruling provides some relief to California patients, their families, and doctors who have been living in uncertainty while facing difficult health decisions,” Becerra said. “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 Future of Physician-Assisted Suicide in California

It is almost a certainty that more court cases regarding doctor-assisted suicide will follow these recent rulings. However, it is important to note that 76 percent of voters backed a terminally ill patient’s right to ask for life-ending drugs. Nearly 400 people took advantage of these drugs in 2017, according to reports. It is likely that doctor-assisted suicide has the support to be able to survive legal challenges.

Please Share Your Thoughts on this Issue

Do you think physician-assisted suicide should be legal in California? Should terminally ill patients have the right to end their lives? Is it a doctor’s job to provide his or her patients with prescriptions for life-ending drugs?

We want to hear your thoughts on this very complicated issue. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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