Right-To-Die Lawsuit Rejected by California Appeals Court

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on October 30, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Associated Press reported yesterday that a California appeals court rejected a lawsuit brought by Christy O'Donnell and two other terminally ill patients who sought to legalize the procedure for doctors to prescribe them fatal medication.

The court ruled that current law would criminalize physicians who helped patients commit suicide. The news comes as a blow to the patients in light of this month's signing of the California's physician-assisted suicide law. This is ironic because O'Donnell's face has become synonymous with California's freshly legalized right to drug-assisted suicide.

Right to Die

It was only very recently -- as in earlier this month -- that Governor Jerry Brown signed ABX2 15, California's "right-to-die" bill: the fifth of its kind in the nation. With a stroke of his pen, the Governor finally made it legal for physicians to assist their terminally ill patients in their own suicide.

The signing is consistent with changing national attitudes regarding individuals' rights to physician assisted suicide. There is even an apparent loosening by Catholics (but not the Catholic Church) on the issue. Overall, the signing of the law has the appearance of being a done deal.

There's Not Enough Time

However, it isn't that simple. The law is not scheduled to come into effect until at least April of 2016. This means that in the interim, doctors cannot assist their patients' suicides lest they risk criminal charges.

And even if California's highest court grants review of O'Donnell's case, it is unlikely to benefit her as she was only predicted to have less than six months left to live given the severity of her cancer. Even the Fourth Disctric acknowledged this. Thus, if any review is given by a California higher court, it may be a somewhat Pyrrhic Victory for O'Donnell.

Opposing Positions

Opponents to the law -- for example, Californians Against Assisted Suicide -- have also argued that the law would unequally benefit those seeking physician assisted suicides.

And since the bill only makes physician assisted suicide legal through prescription drugs, it necessarily requires a patient to seek appointments with a doctor. Advocates against the law say that the poor do not benefit in the way that the wealthy do, since well-connected individuals necessarily enjoy greater access under the law.

Last Options

O'Donnell's attorney said that all options are being considered including an appeal to California's Supreme Court.

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