Compassion & Choices Action Network Rebuts Federal Lawsuit by Disability Rights Groups Seeking to Invalidate CA Medical Aid-in-Dying Law
Cite Law’s Safeguards, Expansion of End-of-Life Care, and Support Among People with Disabilities
Apr 28, 2023 legal advocacy
Compassion & Choices Action Network strongly challenges the arguments of several disability groups and two people with disabilities who filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in the Central District of California against California officials challenging the End of Life Option Act. The plaintiffs claim that the recently updated California medical-aid-in-dying law, which took effect in 2022, discriminates against people with disabilities by violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the U.S. Constitution's due process and equal protection clauses in the 14th Amendment.
“A recent national poll shows nearly eight out of ten voters with a disability support medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option for terminally ill adults,” said Kim Callinan, president/CEO of Compassion & Choices and its sister organization, Compassion & Choices Action Network. “Like hospice and palliative care, medical aid
in dying is an option that patients can voluntarily choose, if they want it. Reports show medical aid in dying spurs more doctor-patient conversations about the full range of end-of-life care options.
The multiple safeguards in medical aid-in-dying laws in California and every other U.S. jurisdiction ensure no one will be coerced into using this end-of-life care option. And everyone who qualifies for it should be able to access it if they want
The California End of Life Option Act specifies that: "If there are indications of a mental disorder, the (attending) physician shall refer the patient for a mental health specialist assessment … No aid-in-dying drugs shall be prescribed until the mental health specialist determines that the individual has the capacity to make medical decisions and is not suffering from impaired judgment due to a mental disorder.”
The law also requires the attending physician to advise the patient about “feasible alternatives or additional treatment options, including, but not limited to, comfort care, hospice care, palliative care, and pain control.”
“Having a disability alone does not allow someone access to aid-in-dying medications under the current law. People with disabilities who would qualify for the law must have a prognosis of six months or less to live, and even in those circumstances,
they still may not be eligible,” said Dr. Chandana Banerjee, a physician and associate professor who practices medical aid in dying at City of Hope National Medical Center.
Polling shows that three out of four Californians (75%) support medical aid in dying as an option for terminally ill adults.
In addition, the retired longtime executive director of Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) from 1991-2019, which has federal authority to act as a watchdog for people with disabilities
and request confidential records, confirmed in a 2019 letter:
“In the years since passage of the  Oregon Death with Dignity Act (the Act) … DRO has never to my knowledge received a complaint that a person with disabilities was coerced or being coerced to make use of the Act.” [Bold font
added to original copy]
Finally, a 2007 Journal of Medical Ethics study about the Oregon Death with Dignity Act concluded:“Rates of assisted dying in Oregon ... showed no evidence of heightened risk for the elderly, women, the uninsured ... people with low educational status, the poor, the physically disabled or chronically ill … people with psychiatric illnesses including depression, or racial or ethnic minorities, compared with background populations.”
The Compassion & Choices family comprises two organizations: Compassion & Choices (the 501(c)(3)), whose focus is expanding access, public education and litigation; and Compassion & Choices Action Network (the 501(c)(4)), whose focus is legislative work at the federal and state levels.