California judge overturns physician aid-in-dying law

Betsy Davis smiles during her

Alpert Betsy Davis smiles during her"Right To Die Party in Ojai. Niels Alpert via AP

"The court made it 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", said Alexandra Snyder, executive director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, said in a statement Tuesday. The bills proponents tout dignity, choice, compassion, and painlessness. California's law allows patients with less than six months to live to request end-of-life drugs from their doctors, a practice that has been allowed in OR for more than 20 years.

However, the judge is holding his judgment for five days to give the state time to file an emergency appeal.

The legislation was enacted after Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with a terminal disease, gained public attention when she moved in 2014 from California to OR in order to obtain assisted suicide. Choice is really an illusion for a very few. "For too many, assisted suicide will be the only affordable "treatment" that is offered them". "The act itself was rushed through the special session of the legislature and it does not have any of the safeguards one would expect to see in a law like this", Stephen G. Larson, lead counsel for the group of doctors who sued to stop the law, told The Sacramento Bee. She said assisted suicide is often framed as health care, but "nothing could be further from the truth". 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.

Bills considered in a special session require the same majority vote as in normal legislative sessions, but are generally reviewed more quickly and take effect sooner than standard legislation.

The legislation gained new support in California from the plight of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old schoolteacher from Alamo who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2014.

Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, who backed the bill, charged that the judge's decision interfered with Californians in the process of securing the lethal drugs under the law. "So, I said, 'Well, what about the drugs they are using for the new [assisted suicide] law?"

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Harry Nelson, a healthcare attorney in Los Angeles who represents several doctors who have prescribed lethal prescriptions, told the Los Angeles Times he thinks it is unlikely the law will be permanently overturned.

Judge Ottolia denied the group's request for an immediate injunction, but allowed the challenge to move forward in court. He said it affirmed that assisted suicide advocates "circumvented the legislative process". "California law now pits the financial interests of health care providers, especially in cases where the provider and insurer are the same entity, against the needs of patients".

In California, opponents including Catholic leaders and medical groups defeated a 1992 initiative to legalize aid-in-dying and stalled other bills in the state Legislature. "This encompasses many types of illnesses-even those that can be successfully treated-if the patient decides to forego treatment", LLDF said in a press release.

Her story incited more awareness for the Death With Dignity movement, which began in OR when a group of physicians helped pass the first statewide law that allowed for terminally ill patients to request drugs to end their lives.

Almost two years after it took effect, California's controversial assisted death law is back in limbo.

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