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Lawsuit Filed to Stop California's Assisted Suicide Law

Assisted Suicide
Life Legal Defense Foundation is representing a group of California physicians who oppose their state's new assisted-suicide law. (Reuters photo)

Wednesday, on the eve of the End of Life Option Act's enactment in California, a group of physicians has filed a lawsuit to block the law entirely.

The civil rights lawsuit was filed by two oncologists, a neurologist, a palliative care physician and a hospice physician, as well as the American Academy of Medical Ethics, which represents more than 600 California doctors and 15,000 physician members nationwide. It alleges the law violates the equal protection rights of individuals labeled "terminally ill."

"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," Life Legal Defense Foundation, which has provided attorneys to represent the physicians in the case, said in a press release announcing the lawsuit Wednesday evening. "In contrast, all non-terminally ill Californians enjoy legal protection that makes it a felony to aid, advise or encourage another to commit suicide."

The complaint points out the assisted-suicide law does not require labeled individuals seeking a lethal prescription to undergo counseling for untreated depression and/or suicidal thoughts. Research, it states, has demonstrated having such a provision would address the overwhelming majority of suicides.

"Eighty to 90 percent of all suicides are associated with depression or other treatable mental disorders," the press release states. "The California Department of Public Health Care Services assumes that only 2 percent of Medi-Cal patients likely to request the lethal drugs will be referred for psychiatric counseling and set the state budget accordingly."

The End of Life Option Act "incentivizes the creation of Kevorkian-like suicide pipelines," Life Legal asserted, and 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. Also, "terminal disease" includes any condition that, if left untreated, would cause death within six months, which the attorneys said "encompasses many types of illnesses—even those that can be successfully treated—if the patient decides to forego treatment."

"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," Life Legal Executive Director Alexandra Snyder said of the lawsuit. "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.

"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."

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