Issues

California doctors say assisted suicide law violates conscience protections

California

A group of doctors from the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA) petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California last week to suspend California’s assisted suicide law on the grounds that it violates their conscience.

In February, the group filed a lawsuit against Senate Bill 380, the state’s assisted suicide law. In a hearing last Friday, it asked the court to suspend the law while the suit proceeds.

Currently, physicians in California who do not want to write a prescription for the lethal drugs used in assisted suicide procedures must tell the patient that they refuse, note it in the patient’s medical record, and then offer to transfer the patient to another doctor who doesn’t have the same objections. Even if a doctor objects to assisted suicide, the requirement to note the patient’s request qualifies as the first of two legally mandated requests. Opponents argue that the way the law is written violates their “belief in the sanctity of human life,” while preventing them from providing proper palliative care and medical help to those patients who need it most.

READ: California drops assisted suicide waiting period to just 48 hours

John Kappos, an attorney representing several parties as intervenors in the case, argued that the law does nothing to infringe on conscience protections. “This is a law that is requiring physicians to do little or nothing more than they’re already required to do,” he said. “It is not an infringement on First Amendment rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. It’s more, at most, an incidental impact on those rights.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, representing the CMDA and another physician in the case, disagrees. “Our clients seek to give their patients the best possible healing care, including comfort and dignity, until natural death occurs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “The Christian physicians we represent have personal religious convictions and professional ethics that oppose the practice of assisted suicide, and it’s illegal for the state of California to force these doctors to participate in this practice. We urge the court to stop this irreparable harm while our lawsuit moves forward.”

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