Compassion & Choices Disappointed by Settlement of Lawsuit Challenging California Medical Aid-in-Dying Law
Group Notes Some News Reports Overstated Terms of Settlement
Compassion & Choices is disappointed about the terms of the settlement of a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California’s revised medical-aid-in-dying law and the resulting permanent injunction issued by the court. The plaintiffs in this case, Christian Medical & Dental Associations v. Bonta, claim that the amended California End of Life Option Act, Senate Bill 380, 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.
Compassion & Choices strongly believes that nothing in the original End of Life Option Act nor Senate Bill 380 required objecting physicians to participate in medical aid in dying. As a result, we filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on May 18, 2022, on behalf of Compassion & Choices Action Network, the sponsor of Senate Bill 380, Andrew Flack, a 34-year-old cancer patient living in California who, at the time of filing, had an unfilled prescription for medical aid in dying, and two California physicians who practice medical aid in dying, Dr. Chandana Banerjee and Dr. Catherine Sonquist Forest, whose husband, Will Forest, used this end-of-life care option. However, the federal district court ignored our request to intervene in the case for a year before dismissing the motion when it entered its final judgment on May 17, 2023.
The State defendants and plaintiffs in the case reached a settlement on May 11, 2023, asking the federal district court to enter a permanent injunction, award attorney fees of $300,000, and dismiss the case. Compassion & Choices was not involved in or aware of these ongoing settlement negotiations.
The court ruled in its final judgment on May 17 that California officials “are hereby permanently enjoined from enforcing any criminal or civil punishment, including professional discipline or licensing sanction for a California-licensed physician’s refusal or failure to document a patient’s request for medical aid-in-dying” as required by the revised version of the End of Life Option Act, Senate Bill 380, enacted into law in 2021.
Despite the fact that neither the original End of Life Option Act nor Senate Bill 380 require these steps, the federal district court also said that physicians do not have to “Provide information to a patient about aid-in-dying, other than the fact that the physician does not provide aid-in-dying services…when a patient requests aid-in-dying” or “refer a patient to another physician when the patient seeks such referral for the purpose of obtaining aid-in-dying services.” Unfortunately, some news stories erroneously reported that these two actions are required under Senate Bill 380.
It is important to note that the federal district court specified that its court order “does not prohibit the State…from enforcing other affirmative requirements in the EOLOA, including, but not limited to, the requirements…that a health care provider who is unable or unwilling to participate in the EOLOA inform a patient requesting aid-in-dying services that they do not participate in the EOLOA and transfer a patient’s relevant medical record upon request.”
The rest of California’s revised End of Life Option Act remains in effect, so terminally ill patients who meet the law’s eligibility requirements can still obtain a doctor’s prescription for medical aid in dying.