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Judge Invalidates California Life-Ending Drug Law

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on May 18, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Whether it's euthanasia, abortion, or the death penalty, life-and-death issues are highly controversial and hotly debated. Talking heads rankle over the issues and politicians use them as rallying devices. In an ongoing debate out of California, an end-of-life law seems to be meeting its own end as a judge has ruled it was unconstitutionally approved by lawmakers.

The End of Life Option Act

In 2015, state legislators passed -- and Governor Jerry Brown signed -- the End of Life Option Act, making California the fifth state to enact an "aid-in-dying" law. Under the law, an adult diagnosed with a terminal illness by his or her attending physician can request drugs to end their life as long as they meet certain criteria, including:

  • The adult must have the capacity to make medical decisions;
  • The terminal illness will, within reasonable medical judgment, result in death within six months;
  • The individual is a resident of California; and
  • The individual has voluntarily expressed a wish to receive the life-ending drug

The controversial law went into effect in June of 2016, and 111 people reportedly took their own lives using the drugs in the first six months.

Unconstitutionally Approved

Lawyers for both sides were quick to point out that the judge did not rule on the constitutionality of physician-assisted suicide itself. Rather, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia ruled that the law was unconstitutionally approved by the legislature since lawmakers passed it during a special session devoted to medical care.

Opponents of the law said, "Access to health care has no relationship to assisted suicide." They also argued that this law would put terminally ill patients at risk for coercion. Meanwhile, proponents said the law was properly considered and lets people die on their own terms. For now, Judge Ottolia has allowed the law to remain in place while proponents file an appeal.

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