The Life Legal Defense Foundation filed a lawsuit on June 8, 2016 challenging California’s physician-assisted suicide law, the “End of Life Option Act.” The lawsuit was filed in the California Superior Court in Riverside County.
The civil rights lawsuit alleges Equal Protection violations of individuals labeled terminally ill and was filed by five physicians in southern California and by the American Academy of Medical Ethics (AAME), which represents more than 600 California doctors and over 2 million patients. AAME has 15,000 physician members nationwide. The individual physicians include two oncologists, a neurologist, as well as palliative care and hospice physicians, all seeking to protect the rights of their patients
The Act decriminalizes physician-assisted suicide and instantly removes criminal law, elder abuse, and mental-health legal protections from any individual deemed terminally ill, despite the inherent uncertainty and frequently inaccurate nature of such a prognosis. In contrast, all non-terminally ill Californians enjoy Penal Code § 401 protection, which makes it a felony to aid, advise, or encourage another to commit suicide. They also enjoy other legal protections against suicide, including being placed on 72-hour (to 30-day) mental-health holds to protect them from self harm.
California’s assisted suicide law does not require labeled individuals seeking a lethal prescription to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, so patients with untreated depression and suicidal ideation can be prescribed lethal drugs. A large body of psychiatric research has demonstrated that 80-90% of all suicides are associated with depression or other treatable mental disorders. The California Department of Public Health Care Services assumes that only two percent of Medi-Cal patients likely to request the lethal drugs will be referred for psychiatric counseling and set the state budget accordingly.
“We are asking the court to uphold civil and criminal laws that should apply equally to all Californians, including laws that protect people from self-harm and elder abuse laws. The End of Life Option Act is irreparably flawed as it removes crucial protections from individuals who are most susceptible to depression, abuse, and coercion,” said Alexandra Snyder, Executive Director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation. “The Act provides virtually no safeguards for labeled individuals who may suffer from untreated mental illness or mood disorders and grants full immunity for doctors to participate in the killing of their most vulnerable patients.”
The End of Life Option Act also incentivizes the creation of Kevorkian-like suicide pipelines. Doctors who prescribe the drugs do not have to have a prior relationship with patients and are thus free to prey on vulnerable patients—including those who are mentally ill—as they would be immune from nearly all civil and criminal liability under the Act.
Under the Act, “terminal illness” includes any condition that, if left untreated, would cause death within six months. This encompasses many types of illnesses—even those that can be successfully treated—if the patient decides to forego treatment. Moreover, predicting life expectancy is crude and fraught with subjective judgment. Physicians’ predictions for life-expectancy are frequently wrong.
To read the complaint, click here: End of Life Option Act Conformed Complaint
The Life Legal Defense Foundation is a non-profit law firm that specializes in the defense and protection of vulnerable life.
To learn more, visit lldf.org.