Health

Judge dismisses suit seeking to legalize doctor-assisted suicide

Green denotes states in which aid in dying is authorized, orange denotes states in which Compassion & Choices is currently running advocacy campaigns, and blue denotes states that have yet to see cohesive end-of-life rights movements.
Green denotes states in which aid in dying is authorized, orange denotes states in which Compassion & Choices is currently running advocacy campaigns, and blue denotes states that have yet to see cohesive end-of-life rights movements.
COURTESY OF COMPASSION & CHOICES

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A San Diego Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit Friday that sought to legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill Californians.

The judge, Gregory Pollack, rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the state law prohibiting doctors from prescribing life-ending medication violates California's constitution. He said the debate over the issue is best left to the legislature and the voters, according to journalists and activists who were in the courtroom.

Last month a bill that would have allowed physician-assisted suicide in California stalled after the authors failed to muster enough votes for it to move forward. They aim to try again next year.

The three terminally ill people who joined with a San Diego physician to file the lawsuit will appeal Pollack's ruling, according to Compassion & Choices, a pro-assisted suicide organization that provided one of the plaintiffs' lawyers.

The suit argued California's law prohibiting physician-assisted suicide violates their rights to privacy, liberty, free speech and equal protection under the state constitution. The lead plaintiff is Christy O’Donnell of Santa Clarita, who according to the suit is dying of Stage IV lung cancer. She is a Los Angeles civil rights lawyer and former LAPD sergeant.

"I don't have much time left to live and that is why I support all end-of-life options, whether they are authorized by litigation or legislation," said O’Donnell, 47, in a statement. "These options are urgent for me." 

There is a similar lawsuit in San Francisco that is ongoing. It was filed by a cancer patient and several other assisted suicide advocates, including the Disability Rights Legal Center. They are asking the court to allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs without fear of prosecution.

Compassion & Choices has said it may pursue a ballot initiative to legalize assisted suicide if efforts in the courts and the legislature fail.

Physician-assisted suicide moved into the spotlight in the fall after the death of a young California woman, Brittany Maynard. After learning she had terminal brain cancer, Maynard moved to Oregon to take advantage of its law that allows doctors to prescribe life ending medication to terminally ill patients.

Assisted suicide advocates stepped up their activity in the wake of Maynard's death, pressing efforts in California and across the country to legalize the practice. Doctors can prescribe life-ending medication in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.

Opponents of legalizing physician-assisted suicide in California argue that it would invite abuse of vulnerable people. The Catholic Church has also strongly opposed it on religious grounds.