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Assisted suicide blocked for now in California

A county judge invalidated California’s physician-assisted suicide law Tuesday (May 15) but did not rule the lethal practice unconstitutional.

Daniel Ottolia, a Superior Court judge in Riverside County, struck down the state’s End of Life Option Act, saying legislators defied California law by passing the measure during a special session called to address health care issues, supporters and opponents of the 2015 law said, according to the Los Angeles Times. Ottolia provided state Attorney General Xavier Becerra with five days to appeal the ruling and keep the law in effect.

Even if Ottolia’s ruling were to survive the appeals process, the California legislature apparently could resolve his concerns by passing the proposal during a different session.

“While a temporary win, we should be thankful anytime our system of checks and balances counteracts the culture of death,” said Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“The assisted-suicide regime is one tragic example of public policy working to do the very thing that it should not — encourage death,” he said in written comments. “We should stand together for a culture of life and look for better palliative care alternatives that bring comfort, not death.”

The Life Legal Defense Foundation, which helped challenge the law in the case, said Ottolia “made it very clear that assisted suicide has nothing to do with increasing access to health care and that hijacking the special session to advance an unrelated agenda is impermissible.”

“We are thrilled by today’s ruling, which reinstates critical legal protections for vulnerable patients,” Life Legal Executive Director Alexandra Snyder said in a written release.

Critics of assisted suicide charge the practice is not only potentially abusive, but it already is being used in place of health care. Some Americans with terminal illnesses have reported Medicaid and/or their insurance companies have informed them they will pay for a lethal prescription but not drugs to treat their afflictions.

David Stevens, chief executive officer of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, praised the opinion, saying in a written statement, “Assisted suicide is not healthcare, it has no role in the healing arts of medicine, and it is dangerous for patients, medicine and society. Those who have a financial interest in a patient’s death — insurers, the government, greedy heirs — can wield lethal pressure against the elderly and infirm.”

In support of the law, Becerra told the Times, “We strongly disagree with this ruling and the state is seeking expedited review in the Court of Appeal.”

The California law permits state residents who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and supposedly have less than six months of life remaining to receive a prescription from a physician for a lethal dose of drugs.

Compassion and Choices, the country’s largest aid-in-dying organization, criticized Ottolia’s decision.

Reversing the assisted-suicide law “would have devastating consequences for terminally ill Californians, who will be forced to suffer through needlessly prolonged deaths, and their families,” said Kevin Díaz, Compassion and Choices’ national director of legal advocacy. “While we respect the plaintiffs’ personal opposition to the law, they certainly should not be able to take away the ability of other doctors to offer this option to dying patients to peacefully end their suffering.”

If California’s law is reinstated, assisted suicide will be legal in seven states and the District of Columbia. Hawaii enacted an assisted suicide law in April. The other states are Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

— by Tom Strode | BP

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