Last month, a judge overturned California’s law legalizing assisted suicide, which had been implemented in 2015. Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia ruled that the California legislature violated the state constitution by passing the law during a special session that was supposed to be dedicated to Medicare funding. A group of doctors had sued to stop the law, which was rushed through the special session after it failed to pass a regular legislative session. “That special session was called to address funding shortages caused by Medi-Cal,” Stephen G. Larson, lead counsel for the doctors who filed suit, said. “It was not called to address the issue of assisted suicide.”
Ottolia originally ruled that assisted suicide did not fall within the topic of health care funding, and gave Attorney General Xavier Becerra five days to file an emergency appeal to keep the bill alive. Becerra did file an appeal, and this weekend, a state appeals court reinstated the law. The Fourth District Court of Appeals in Riverside issued an immediate stay, meaning the law goes back into effect right away. Becerra praised the court’s decision, saying, “This ruling provides some relief to California patients, their families, and doctors who have been living in uncertainty while facing difficult health decisions. Today’s court ruling is an important step to protect and defend the End of Life Option Act for our families across the state.”
Opponents of the law will have until July 2nd to file objections to the appeals court’s decision.
Since assisted suicide was legalized in California, over 100 people have taken their own lives. There have also been reports of California insurance companies refusing to pay for treatment, like chemotherapy, for terminally ill patients, but offering to pay for assisted suicide instead. California resident Stephanie Packer experienced this firsthand as she fought cancer. “As soon as this law was passed, patients fighting for a longer life end up getting denied treatment, because this will always be the cheapest option,” she said.
Packer leads support groups for people fighting terminal and chronic illnesses, and said she saw an immediate difference after the law was passed. “Normally, we would talk about support and love, and we would be there for each other, and just encourage them that, you know, today is a bad day, tomorrow doesn’t have to be,” she explained. But there was a clear morale change, and people began talking about wanting to end their lives instead, also pointing out that it makes patients like her feel that they are not worth the effort or expense to extend their lives when they could just die quickly and easily instead. Despite the twisting of words to make assisted suicide sound “sweet and pretty”, Packer insists that it’s not. “It makes terminally ill patients feel ‘less than,’ that they are not worthy of that fight, that they’re not worth it,” she said.
She also is very clear about the repercussions of allowing assisted suicide to remain legal. “Patients are going to die because of this,” she said. “Patients need to know what this means, and the public needs to know that it’s going to kill these patients because they aren’t going to get the treatment they need to extend their life.”