California AG files emergency appeal to keep physician aid-in-dying law on the books

justice scales and gavel
An appeals court will decide the future of the California medical aid-in-dying law. (Getty/BrianAJackson)

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed an appeal on Monday against a judge’s recent decision to overturn the state’s physician aid-in-dying law.

Along with filing an emergency request (PDF) with the state court of appeals to immediately reverse that decision to invalidate the End of Life Option Act, Becerra asked for an immediate stay to allow the law to remain in place pending the court’s review.

On May 21, a judge overturned the state law that allows physicians to prescribe lethal medications to terminally ill patients, saying it was passed illegally in a special session of the legislation that was focused on specific health care issues. Becerra argued in the appeal that the ruling was erroneous and the law was passed within the scope of the special session.

Becerra’s appeal moves the case to the 4th District Court of Appeals, which will decide the future of the California law, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The state's End of Life Option Act allows terminally ill patients with six months or less to live to request medications from their doctors to end their lives. In the appeal, Becerra noted that healthcare practitioners may now face the possibility of criminal prosecution for providing patients with information and assistance about the law and have an immediate need for clarity.

A state judge overturned the law that took effect in 2016, but gave the California attorney general five days to file an emergency appeal to keep the law in place. Becerra cited California Gov. Jerry Brown’s statement when he signed the bill into law as an example of how it fits into the scope of the special legislative session to improve residents’ health.

RELATED: Hawaii is latest state to approve medical aid-in-dying; obstacles to implementation elsewhere

In a statement, the advocacy group Compassion & Choices, which led the campaign to pass the law in California and filed an amicus brief in the case, praised Becerra’s emergency request to reverse the court ruling to invalidate the law.

California is one of seven states, including Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, along with the District of Columbia, that allow doctors to prescribe lethal prescriptions for terminally ill patients.

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