Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

As California Assisted Suicide Law Takes Effect, Lawsuit Seeks to Halt It

Argument is Equal Protection rights of the terminally ill, violated by assisted suicide legislation

On the day the legislation takes effect, a group opposing California's new assisted suicide law have filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order against suicide facilitators, who may administer lethal drugs prescribed by physician to terminally ill patients.

The lawsuit claims that the civil rights of the terminally ill are violated by the assisted suicide legislation under the Equal Protection clause. The lawsuit was filed by five physicians in Southern California and by the American Academy of Medical Ethics, which represents more than 600 California doctors and 15,000 physicians nationwide. The individual physicians include two oncologists, a neurologist, and palliative care and hospice physicians.

The law, dubbed Death with Dignity by its proponents, failed four times to make it out of committee and onto the floor of the state congress. Instead, the legislation to allow assisted suicide was jammed onto a Medi-Cal spending bill in order to get it before elected officials. Perhaps appropriately, the spending bill was designed to save Medi-Cal money.

The overwhelmingly liberal California Senate and Assembly voted in favor of the spending bill, including the suicide rider, and it was signed into law in October 2015 by Governor Jerry Brown, a Catholic who'd once considered entering the priesthood.

The law allows patients who've been given a diagnosis of terminal illness with 6 months or less to live to obtain a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs. These drugs may be administered by anyone, including parties who may stand to benefit from the patient's death. Death certificates will list "natural causes" instead of suicide, ostensibly in order to protect privacy. This does seem odd, however, since the law's intent is to provide "death with dignity" and legitimize suicide. Why would privacy need to be protected? Why would the true circumstances surrounding the patient's death need to be obscured - unless something underhanded was going on?

Contributing to the obscurity of the situation, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has stated that her department will not review or prosecute crimes committed by guardians under the mantle of guardianship proceedings.

Suicide was not previously considered a crime in California. The new assisted-suicide legislation allows doctors and other third parties to become "assistants" to suicide - what some might call murderers. Under the new law, those who stand to profit financially from an individual's death are allowed to help the individual sign up for the lethal dose, be present at its consumption, and all without witnesses.

For the California law, counseling is not required for patients to request lethal dosages.

Recent studies in countries with assisted suicide laws show cases emerging with individuals who were euthanized without their knowledge or consent, including psychiatric patients and deformed infants.


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