A California judge has reinstated the state’s assisted suicide law, making it legal for terminally ill patients to end their lives while a court case is resolved — a move some critics say targets the vulnerable.
“Assisted suicide limits choice for vulnerable people such as the terminally ill, elderly, individuals with disabilities, and anyone who relies on health insurance to cover treatment,” said Kristen Hanson, the community relations advocate for Patients’ Rights Action Fund.
“It creates perverse economic incentives for insurance companies to deny coverage and deprive patients of lifesaving treatment when lethal drugs are so much cheaper,” Hanson told CNA.
On Friday, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Riverside, CA issued a stay putting the End of Life Option back into effect. The decision gives opponents until July 2 to file objections.
The law allows patients who have a terminal diagnosis of six months or less to receive fatal drugs prescribed by a doctor.
Last month, the law had been declared unconstitutional by Superior Judge Daniel Ottolia of Riverside County, who said the legislation was “adopted illegally” since it was passed during a legislative session limited to issues other than assisted suicide.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra appealed Ottolia’s ruling in May, and fought over the past weeks to reinstate the assisted suicide law.
Becerra applauded the state appeals court’s decision, saying it “provides some relief to California patients, their families and doctors who have been living in uncertainty while facing difficult health decisions,” according to the LA Times.
However, patients’ rights activist Matt Valliere called the legislation a distraction from providing real health care to patients.
“The California experience is that assisted suicide is controversial and a distraction,” said Valliere, executive director for Patients’ Rights Action Fund, in a June 18 statement.
“Instead of assisted suicide we ought to focus on delivering real healthcare and treatment choices for patients facing serious disease,” Valliere continued.
The End of Life Option took effect in California in 2016 in the wake of the controversial case of Brittany Maynard, who in 2014 traveled from California to Oregon to obtain lethal drugs to end her life after a terminal brain cancer diagnosis. Within the first six months of legalizing assisted suicide in California, more than 100 people ended their lives.
Physician-assisted suicide is legal by law in the District of Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, and Colorado; and in Montana through a state supreme court ruling. It will become legal in Hawaii next year. A bill to legalize assisted suicide is under consideration in Indiana.
“In other states where assisted suicide has been legalized, we’ve seen some of the consequences: suicide contagion, doctors making mistakes in their prognoses, and clinically depressed people receiving assisted suicide drugs,” Hanson said.
“The people of California deserve better access to palliative care and hospice services, not assisted suicide.”