(San Diego, CA – June 11, 2015) A California judge has ordered expedited review of a suit filed on behalf of three patients and a physician asserting the state constitution and existing state law allow terminally ill adults to utilize the option of medical aid in dying to end their unbearable suffering. The court’s order is posted at: www.compassionandchoices.org/userfiles/2015-06-09-Minute-Order.pdf.
Superior Court Judge Gregory Pollack will hold a preliminary motions hearing on July 24, which coincidentally is the birthday of the dying lead plaintiff, Christy O’Donnell, 46. Despite receiving chemotherapy every week for the last 10 months, O’Donnell’s physicians have told her that she will likely die painfully within the next few months from lung cancer that has spread to tumors in her brain, spine, rib and liver. Medical aid in dying gives mentally competent, terminally ill adults like O’Donnell the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can take in their final days to end their dying process painlessly and peacefully.
“Christy’s cancer has spread and causes her more pain and suffering each day,” said John Kappos, a Newport Beach-based partner in the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, who argued the motion before Judge Pollack and is working with Compassion & Choices on behalf of Christy and other plaintiffs in the suit. “We thank the court for expediting review of any preliminary motions filed in this case.”
O’Donnell is a Christian, registered Republican, civil rights attorney and former sergeant in the LAPD, whose 20-year-old daughter, Bailey, lives with her in Santa Clarita. The video of her story, which was recorded on March 4, is posted at: www.compassionandchoices.org/new-litigation-in-california and www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_x3_5-Ip1M&noredirect=1
“The last thing I want is for my daughter, Bailey, to see me die in agony because I cannot utilize medical aid in dying,” said O’Donnell. “The judge’s decision gives Bailey and me a ‘chance’ to experience a less painful time at my death.”
“Judge Pollack’s decision is another positive step toward making medical aid in dying available to terminally ill Californians who suffer enormously in their final weeks and days,” said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “This ruling shows the court’s sensitivity to Christy’s urgent situation. We welcome the opportunity to present the merits of the case to the court.”
The other plaintiffs are Sacramento resident Elizabeth Wallner, who has stage IV colon cancer that has metastasized to her liver and lungs; a retired landscape architect from Ventura, Wolf Breiman, who was diagnosed six years ago with an incurable cancer of the white blood cells called multiple myeloma; and La Jolla physician Lynette Cederquist, M.D., who is board certified in internal medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, and a clinical professor of medicine.
The suit also asserts that medical aid in dying is a more peaceful alternative to palliative sedation. Palliative sedation involves medicating the patient into a coma and withholding nutrition and fluids until the patient dies. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and California courts have recognized palliative sedation as a legitimate medical practice. The suit is posted at: www.compassionandchoices.org/userfiles/Complaint-CA-Lawsuit.pdf.
The suit coincides with the legislative campaign to authorize medical aid in dying in California by passing the End of Life Option Act (SB 128), recently approved by the Senate. SB 128 is closely modeled after the death-with-dignity law in Oregon, which has worked well for 17 years, without a single documented case of abuse or coercion. Currently, four other states authorize medical aid in dying: Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. A recent poll shows that California voters support the medical option of aid in dying by more than a 2-1 margin (64 percent vs. 24 percent).