Matt Fairchild, terminally ill advocate

Compassion & Choices’ Legal Advocacy has also fought to protect California’s End of Life Option Act, which took effect on June 9, 2016. Our opposition has filed a lawsuit to overturn the law, enlisting six doctors opposed to medical aid in dying.

Along with the Christian Medical and Dental Society (“Plaintiffs”), these unsupportive doctors filed a Complaint with the Superior Court of California in Riverside County to overturn the passage of the law. Overturning California’s End of Life Option Act would result in all terminally ill Californians losing their currently-protected right to choose when and how their lives end.

Defendants are Michael Hestrin, District Attorney of Riverside County; Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General of the California; and the State of California by and through the California Department of Public Health (“Defendants”).

On July 19, 2016, Compassion & Choices filed a Brief of Amicus Curiae in Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, arguing that Plaintiffs’ request should be denied because terminally ill patients, not Plaintiffs, face the greatest threat of harm if the court grants Plaintiffs’ request for preliminary injunction. Additionally, Plaintiffs provided no evidence showing that Plaintiffs or their patients will “suffer severe prejudice” as a result of the Act because Plaintiffs offer only assertions and speculative harms.

The matter is on-going. At a hearing on May 15, 2018, at 8:30 a.m. the court ruled that the End of Life Option Act was unconstitutional because it was passed outside the scope of the special legislative session.  The Defendants-Intervenors’ Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion can be read here, and the Plaintiffs’ Reply in Support of Motion can be read here. After the court’s ruling, Compassion & Choices’ was contacted by many Californians concerns about the future of medical aid in dying.

Following the May 29, 2018, judicial rejection of a Motion to Vacate (i.e., cancel his ruling regarding the End of Life Option Act), on June 1, Compassion & Choices filed a Notice of Appeal, and requested California Attorney General Xavier Becerra take a position on whether the Notice of Appeal triggers an automatic stay of the judge’s ruling, which would reinstate the End of Life Option Act pending further court rulings.

On July 18, 2018, the Court of Appeals granted Compassion & Choices’ Petition for Writ of Supersedeas, which not only officially reinstated the End of Life Option Act, but also recognized that the Act was actually reinstated on June 1, 2018, when Compassion & Choices filed Notice of Appeal.

The Attorney General of California filed a separate appeal on July 25, 2018. On August 20, 2018, the Court of Appeals consolidated the three appellate cases. Then, on August 30, 2018, the court issued their Tentative Opinion, which states that the court is inclined to rule in our favor due to plaintiffs’ lack of standing.

The Fourth District Court of Appeals of California heard arguments on October 9, 2018, and issued an Opinion on November 27, 2018. The appeals court ruled that our opponents in Ahn v. Hestrin did not have legal standing to file their lawsuit opposing medical aid in dying! This means that the End of Life Option Act will remain in place for the foreseeable future. In a majority 2-1 ruling, the appeals court in Ahn v. Hestrin, stated:

“…we conclude that the Ahn parties lack standing for any of the theories they have asserted in this appeal. We have no way of knowing whether, on remand [sending the case back to superior court], they will be able to amend their complaint so as to allege standing, whether the trial court will grant them leave to do so, or whether they will be able to prove up their amended allegations.” (see first full paragraph on page 27).

Unfortunately, only one of the three justices voiced her opinion that the law was passed constitutionally and that failing to dispel this cloud above the law is harmful to the people and families who would find comfort in having this compassionate option at the end of life.

In the majority opinion, the court gave our opponents a roadmap for exactly what they would need to do to amend their lawsuit to achieve standing in the lower court.

On January 7, 2019, our opponents filed a Petition for Review with the California Supreme Court, asking the court to review not only the standing issue that was dismissed by the court of appeal, but also the constitutionality of the End of Life Option Act. Shortly thereafter, on January 23, 2019, Compassion & Choices filed our own Petition for Review. The California Supreme Court rejected both Petitions for Review. However, no court has yet to reach the merits of the case, so the fight continues.

On February 27, 2019, the California Supreme Court rejected our opponents’ appeal to invalidate the California End of Life Option Act, which was a huge victory for the movement. However, the case is far from over, as no court has yet to reach the merits of the case.

After the case returned to the trial court, the California Attorney General filed a CCP 170.6 challenge against the presiding judge. The court granted that challenge, and a new judge was assigned to the case. 

On May 7, 2019, Compassion & Choices filed a Motion to Intervene, asking the trial court to allow us to be a formal party to the case.

On July 5, 2019, the court granted our Motion to Intervene on behalf of real parties in interest Andrea Saltzman and Matthew Fairchild, two terminally ill Californians. On July 5, 2019, the court granted our Motion to Intervene on behalf of real parties in interest Andrea Saltzman and Matthew Fairchild, two terminally ill Californians, but declined to give Dr. Catherine S. Forest intervenor status. 

On August 30, 2019, we filed a Notice of Appeal asking California’s 4th Appellate Court to overturn the denial of Dr. Forest’s intervenor status. 

Meanwhile, in the trial court, we filed a Demurrer and Request for Judicial Notice on September 26, 2019.

The trial court heard oral arguments on Demurrers filed by Compassion & Choices, the Attorney General of California, and the District Attorney of Riverside County, California, on January 23, 2020. The Demurrers were granted by the court in an Order dated March 9, 2020.

On February 24, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a Motion to File a Second Amended Complaint, which the court will hear arguments on April 30, 2020.

As hard as we are working toward a final ruling in this case, we know that our opponents have various ways to continue to drag this fight out for years. We will continue to be vigilant in protecting the practice of medical aid in dying in California and in all authorized states.

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