United States District Judge Vince Chhabria, through a series of rulings, has completely dismissed a Northern California lawsuit by Lonny Shavelson, M.D., and others, to further expand California’s End of Life Option Act. The law currently requires self-administration of suicide drugs (versus physician-administration/euthanasia) which was considered a protection against abuse, but through this lawsuit was challenged as a barrier to accessing physician-assisted death.
Shavelson and other plaintiffs argued that the law violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, they said federal law would be violated when a patient is disabled and “no physician will help [the patient] ingest the aid-in-dying medication because of the threat of criminal prosecution, meaning that [the patient] must choose between taking the medication prematurely, or risk losing the option entirely.” Assisting someone’s suicide via euthanasia or some other means was necessary, they argued, for the California law to conform to the ADA. In June of this year, the judge found, on balance, that the California law does not violate the ADA.
In response to the June 2022 dismissal, Not Dead Yet, a disability rights organization, intoned that “assisted suicide laws themselves violate the ADA by setting up a double standard for how society responds to a person who says they want to commit suicide – some people get suicide prevention and others get suicide assistance, and the difference is the person’s health and disability status.”
On December 7, 2022, Judge Chhabria further ruled that even if the plaintiff’s hypothetical concerns about access to death-inducing drugs were accurate, the California End of Life Option Act simply does not permit the use of euthanasia. In fact, the committee that adopted the law during a special session on the rising cost of medical care specifically excluded the use of euthanasia, as did the balance of the legislature upon review.
Entities that oppose assisted suicide have applauded this decision. Matt Vallière, Executive Director of the Patient’s Rights Action Fund, stated, “Assisted suicide laws are already highly controversial in the United States. By dismissing the suit, the Court prevents the ongoing ‘mission creep’ of California’s assisted suicide law from becoming a euthanasia statute.”
A determination on whether this ruling will be appealed has not been announced at this time.