At a Glance:

Compassion & Choices filed a motion to intervene on behalf of four clients–the bill’s sponsor, a terminally ill patient, and two physicians who participate in the practice of medical aid in dying–on May 18, 2022 in a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 380, the recently amended California End of Life Option Act (“the Act”).

Opponents filed a lawsuit challenging California’s Act on February 22, 2022, arguing that they are forced to participate in the practice of medical aid in dying. Our clients are intervening to defend against any attempt by Plaintiffs to block access to the Act, which is wholly voluntary for physicians and patients alike.

On September 2, 2022, a federal district court judge partially granted Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, suspending the provision of the Act which requires non-participating physicians to, at a minimum, chart a patient’s request for medical aid in dying and their objection in the patient’s medical record. As a result of this ruling, terminally ill patients may be deprived of a complete and accurate medical record simply because of their physician’s personal beliefs.

The Details:

The Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), along with one of its physician members, Dr. Leslee Cochrane, filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Rob Bonta and other state officials seeking to invalidate key provisions of the recently amended medical aid-in-dying law, Senate Bill 380, in California federal district court on Feb. 22, 2022. Plaintiffs are represented by Alliance Defending Freedom and the Life Liberty Defense Foundation– organizations who have previously filed cases unsuccessfully challenging the constitutionality of medical aid in dying in various authorized jurisdictions, including Ahn v. Hestrin, which was dismissed in November 2021.

Plaintiffs erroneously argue that the amended California End of Life Option Act forces them to participate in medical aid in dying and therefore violates their First Amendment rights of free exercise and free speech and their Fourteenth Amendment rights of due process and equal protection. However, every aspect of medical aid in dying is voluntary, including physician participation. Non-participating physicians must merely abide by their professional obligations and meet the minimum standards of medical care by: (1) informing their patients they do not participate in medical aid in dying, (2) charting the patient’s request, as well as the physician’s objection, in the patient’s medical record, and (3) transferring the patient’s medical record upon request.

On May 18, 2022, Compassion & Choices, with the assistance of O’Melveny, filed a motion to intervene on behalf of:

  • Compassion & Choices Action Network, sister network to Compassion & Choices and sponsor of SB 380;
  • Andrew Flack, a 34-year old with terminal cancer and, at the time of filing, had an unfilled prescription for medical aid in dying;
  • Dr. Chandana Banerjee, a hospice and palliative care doctor in California and Board Member of Compassion & Choices;
  • Dr. Catherine Sonquist Forest, a family medicine doctor in California whose husband Will accessed the End of Life Option Act to peacefully end his suffering from a rapidly-progressing motor neuron disease.

Plaintiffs filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction on March 24, 2022. A hearing occurred on Friday, July 8, 2022. On September 2, 2022, the Court partially granted Plaintiff’s motion, suspending the requirement that non-participating physicians document a patient’s request for medical aid in dying and the physician’s objection in the patient’s medical record.

The preliminary injunction ruling allows physicians to refuse their basic obligation to maintain complete and accurate patient records. Patients, not physicians, own their medical records. Compassion & Choices strongly believes that a physician should not be able to withhold factual information and limit a patient’s right to an accurate and complete medical record because of their personal beliefs.

Defendants filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the Preliminary Injunction ruling on September 15, 2022. On October 17, 2022, the Court took Defendants’ Motion for Reconsideration under consideration without a hearing. The Court denied Defendants’ motion on November 21, 2022.

Our clients filed a Motion to Dismiss as Proposed Intervenors on May 18, 2022, and Defendants independently filed a Motion to Dismiss on May 20, 2022. The Motion to Dismiss has been fully briefed and was initially scheduled for a hearing on October 21, 2022. However, the Court vacated the hearing on October 17, 2022 and took the motion under consideration. A decision is forthcoming.

Sadly, proposed intervenor Andrew Flack passed away on 11/16/22 surrounded by his loved ones. Andrew strongly believed that everyone should be able to chart their own end-of-life journey and advocated tirelessly to protect the option of medical aid in dying. His loss will be greatly felt. Our remaining proposed intervenors–Compassion & Choices Action Network, Dr. Banerjee, and Dr. Forest–continue their involvement in this matter, inspired by Andrew’s memory.

Our clients are intervening to block any attempt to disrupt access to California’s End of Life Option Act. Their Motion to Intervene is under consideration. This page will be updated as litigation progresses.

To learn more about Compassion & Choices’ work to protect and expand medical aid in dying through the courts, please visit our Medical Aid in Dying Litigation page.