Riverside, Calif. May 22, 2018 – Compassion & Choices praised the California attorney general for filing an emergency request late Monday with the state court of appeals to reverse a lower court ruling to invalidate the End of Life Option Act. The End of Life Option Act remains in effect until further notice.
Similar to laws in Washington, D.C. and six other states, the California law gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to the option to request prescription medication they can decide to take to end unbearable suffering and die peacefully in their sleep.
Last Tuesday, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia invalidated the law because he claimed the legislature violated the state constitution by passing it during a special session limited to health care issues. He gave Attorney General Xavier Becerra five days to file the emergency request to reverse his ruling in the case, Ahn vs. Hestrin — Case RIC1607135.
“The enactment fell within the scope of the special session called, in part, to consider efforts to ‘improve the efficiency and efficacy of the health care system … and improve the health of Californians,’” says the attorney general’s appeal filed in the 4th District Court of Appeal. “As the Governor indicated, the Act deals with pain, suffering, and the comfort of having the health care options afforded by the Act.”
“We thank Attorney General Becerra for filing his emergency request to reverse the lower court’s ruling that seeks to take away the peaceful option of medical aid in dying for terminally ill Californians,” said John C. Kappos, a partner in the O’Melveny law firm representing Compassion & Choices, which led the campaign to pass the law. “Ultimately, the End of Life Option Act is constitutional because Gov. Brown would have not have signed the law if it fell outside the scope of his proclamation for the special session.”
Polling shows 76 percent of Californians across the political and demographic spectrum support medical aid in dying. This majority support includes 82 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents, 67 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of whites, Latinos and Asian Americans, and 52 percent of African Americans.
“The most important message for terminally ill Californians and their doctors is that the law remains in effect until further notice, so terminally ill patients can still die peacefully, at home, surrounded by their loved ones,” said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices, which filed an amicus brief. “We know this legal battle is far from over, but ultimately justice in the California court system will prevail.”
“Words cannot express the gratitude and relief that I feel thanks to this action by Attorney General Becerra,” said Matt Fairchild, a 48-year-old, retired Army staff sergeant in Burbank who advocated for the law and takes 26 medication to manage his symptoms from terminal melanoma that has spread to his bones, lungs and brain. “Knowing I still have the option of medical aid in dying if my suffering becomes intolerable brings me comfort because I will not have to endure a needlessly agonizing death.”
“As a physician, being licensed in California since 1979, I have witnessed patient’s suffering in death, along with the vicarious suffering of their families in attendance,” said Dr. Thomas Cummings, medical director for A Gift of Hospice… an Interim HealthCare Company in San Diego. “It has been such a blessing to be able to prescribe End of Life Option Act medications and see first-hand the remarkable difference it can make in this very important transitional phase in life.”
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Last June, Compassion & Choices released a report estimating that 504 Californians have received prescriptions for medical aid in dying since it took effect on June 9, 2016. Last July, the California Department of Public Health released a report showing 191 terminally ill Californians received prescriptions from 173 doctors for aid-in-dying medication during the nearly seven month period from June 9, 2016 until Dec. 31, 2016; 111 of those individuals (58%) decided to self-ingest the medication.
“I feel pain for the people who will die suffering during this uncertain period while judges and lawyers hold their right to a dignified end in the balance,” said Dr. Lucille Ridgill, a board-certified hospice and palliative care physician in Torrance who is a member of Compassion & Choices African-American Leadership Council. “I urge those responsible to make the humane decision and allow individuals the right to their own lives.”
“I’m heartbroken for all the people who might not be able to use the End of Life Option Act, which allowed my sister Betsy to die on her own terms and saved her from the prolonged suffering she was sure to face from ALS,” said Kelly Davis, who lives in San Diego County. “I hope the court of appeals will do the right thing and reverse this decision to invalidate the law.”
“This new development means the world to me because I have kept my solemn promise to my wife Brittany to ensure terminally ill Californians have the option for a gentle death,” said Dan Diaz, husband of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman from Contra Costa County, who had to move to Oregon in 2014 to utilize its medical aid-in-dying law because California had not passed its law yet. “I know our opponents will never rest, but neither will I, until I know this law is safe and secure.”
“I thank my fellow Latino brother Xavier Becerra for his efforts on behalf of terminally ill Californians, like the ones I worked with very closely to pass the law,” said Dolores Huerta, a civil rights activist from Bakersfield who is a member of Compassion & Choices Latino Leadership Council. “I helplessly watched my mother die in agony from breast cancer because she did not have this palliative care option, so I do not want to see anyone else suffer like she did.”
“This legal struggle reinforces my faith in God because I know in my heart that he does not want his children to suffer needlessly at life’s inevitable end,” said Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera, a Methodist minister in Claremont who is a member of Compassion & Choices Latino Leadership Council. “I pray he gives the court of appeals the same wisdom it displayed today when they ultimately decide the merits of this case.”
California is one of seven states — including Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Hawai‘i — as well as the District of Columbia, that have authorized medical aid in dying. Collectively, these eight jurisdictions represent nearly one out of five Americans (19%).
Compassion & Choices is the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization working to improve and expand health care options at the end of life, with 450,000 supporters nationwide. For more information, visit: CompassionAndChoices.org