State will appeal judge’s decision that overturned California’s physician aid-in-dying law

Pills in blisters
A California judge overturned the state's medical aid-in-dying law Tuesday. (Shutterstock)

California’s attorney general will appeal a judge’s decision Tuesday that overturned the state’s physician aid-in-dying law.

A state judge overturned the law that took effect in 2016 that allows physicians to prescribe medications to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives, but gave the California attorney general five days to file an emergency appeal to keep the law in place.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement emailed to the Los Angeles Times that his office would appeal the ruling. "We strongly disagree with this ruling and the state is seeking expedited review in the Court of Appeal,” Becerra said, according to the newspaper report.

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Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia ruled Tuesday that the California Legislature violated the state constitution by passing the End of Life Option Act during a special session dedicated to healthcare issues. The law has been controversial, and two groups and several physicians opposed to physician-assisted suicide filed suit to block the law in June 2016. The suit argued that the law is unconstitutional and violates people’s civil rights because it takes protections away from terminally ill patients.

Unless an appeals court suspends the ruling, it will prevent mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live from using the law, the group Compassion & Choices, a national organization supporting medical aid-in-dying, said in a statement.

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.

John C. Kappos, an attorney representing Compassion & Choices, said he believes the passage of the law was constitutional because aid-in-dying is a healthcare issue. "Ultimately, we are confident an appeals court will rule the legislature duly passed the End of Life Option Act and reinstate this perfectly valid law, which the strong majority of Californians support," he said.

Opponents of the law applauded the judge’s decision. "We're very satisfied with the court's decision today. The act itself was rushed through the special session of the legislature and it does not have any of the safeguards one would expect to see in a law like this,” Stephen G. Larson, lead counsel for the group of doctors who sued to stop the law, told The Sacramento Bee.

Last June, on the one-year anniversary of the law, Compassion & Choices estimated that at least 504 terminally ill adults have received prescriptions to end their lives based on inquiries to its consultation program. The California Department of Public Health issued a report that showed 191 Californians received prescriptions from 173 doctors for medication during the first six months in which the law took effect. The state said 111 individuals decided to take the medication.