(Riverside, Calif. — May 15, 2018) A California judge granted a motion by opponents of the California End of Life Option Act to overturn the law because he said the legislature violated the state constitution by passing it during a special session limited to health care issues. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia gave the state attorney general five days to file an emergency appeal of the ruling in the case, Ahn vs. Hestrin — Case RIC1607135, before it will take effect.
Unless the appeals court suspends the ruling, it will prevent mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live from utilizing the law, which authorizes them to utilize medical aid in dying as a palliative care option to peacefully end unbearable suffering.
“We respectfully believe the Court misinterpreted the application of the state constitution to this law because medical aid in dying is a recognized health care option,” said John C. Kappos, a partner in the O’Melveny law firm representing Compassion & Choices, a national organization promoting end-of-life care options that successfully advocated for the legislature to pass the law. “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.”
Last June, Compassion & Choices released a report estimated that 504 Californians have received prescriptions for medical aid in dying since it took effect on June 9, 2016. Last July, the California Department of Public Health released a report showing 191 terminally ill Californians received prescriptions from 173 doctors for aid-in-dying medication from the nearly seven month period from June 9, 2016 until Dec. 31, 2016; 111 of those individuals (58%) decided to self-ingest the medication.
“This unjust ruling to take away this compassionate option to peacefully end my suffering is my worst nightmare,” said Matt Fairchild, a Catholic, 48-year-old, retired Army staff sergeant from Burbank who takes 26 medication to manage his symptoms from terminal melanoma that has spread to his bones, lungs and brain. “I pray the attorney general successfully appeals this decision, so hundreds of terminally ill Californians like me don’t have to suffer needlessly at life’s end.”
“Overturning the End of Life Option Act would have devastating consequences for terminally ill Californians, who will be forced to suffer through needlessly prolonged deaths, and their families,” said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “While we respect the plaintiffs’ personal opposition to the law, they certainly should not be able to take away the ability of other doctors to offer this option to dying patients to peacefully end their suffering.”
“I made a promise to my wife Brittany that I would continue her fight to authorize medical aid in dying in California, and thanks to many terminally ill advocates like Matt Fairchild, we did,” said Dan Diaz, husband of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman from Alamo, who had to move to Oregon in 2014 to utilize its medical aid-in-dying law because California had not passed its law yet. “In Brittany’s honor, I will once again focus all my efforts to convince Gov. Brown, the attorney general and the courts to keep this law in effect.”
“If the End of Life Option Act authorizing medical aid in dying is overturned, terminally ill adults like the ones I worked with very closely during to passage of the law, and their families will be forced to live through painful and prolonged deaths,” said Dolores Huerta, civil rights activist. “I understand the desperate need for medical aid-in-dying laws from watching my mother needlessly die in agony from breast cancer because she did not have this palliative care option. That is why I spent long hours in California working to pass the state’s End of Life Option Act.”
“This is not about politics or about a judge’s decision; this is about human compassion for the terminally ill. Unfortunately, there are still opponents who want to politicize this issue,” said Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera, a Methodist minister and member of Compassion & Choices Latino Leadership Council. “This is a compassionate law for our brothers and sisters. The God we know through Jesus Christ is like a compassionate parent who would not want to see his children suffer unnecessarily.”
California is one of seven states — including Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Hawai‘i — as well as the District of Columbia, that have authorized medical aid in dying. Collectively, these eight jurisdictions represent nearly one out of five Americans (19%).