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Judges reject lawsuit against California law banning assisted suicide

by | Aug 17, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

Judge Gregory Pollack

Judge Gregory Pollack

On July 27, San Diego Superior Court Judge Gregory Pollack dismissed a lawsuit challenging California’s law against assisted suicide (Penal Code 401). His decision will be appealed by the plaintiffs whose lead plaintiff is Christy O’Donnell.

“You’re asking this court to make a new law,” Judge Pollack said. “If a new law is made it should be by the Legislature or by a ballot initiative.” He added that it was not as if he personally felt the current situation was ideal but that it was not for him to overturn the law.

Then, on August 14, San Francisco Judge Ernest Goldsmith rejected a second challenge to the state’s 141-year-old law for virtually the exact same reasons.

Judge Pollack had written, “To the extent that Penal Code 401 unfairly blocks the wishes of certain persons affected by it, rather than this court nixing the law as unconstitutional, the legislature ought to be fixing the law so that the legitimate needs of terminally-ill patients and their physicians are recognized, respected and protected.”

According to ABC7 News, both the Attorney General’s Office and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office argued this was a decision for the legislature, not the courts.

“Technically, there’s no court at least no court decision that still stands where a court in the U.S. has found that there’s a fundamental right to physician assisted suicide,” said Darrell Spence, Calif. Deputy Attorney General.

Judge Ernest Goldsmith agreed.

“This is extraordinary relief that would have enormous, far-reaching, life and death implications,” Goldsmith said.

Judge Ernest Goldsmith

Judge Ernest Goldsmith

There were many interesting twists to coverage of Judge Pollack’s decision.

There was the element of surprise. Many pro-assisted suicide proponents assumed that the power of Brittany Maynard’s story would be so overwhelming that many states would change their laws–and this was reflected in the news stories.

“Among victories for advocates, the California Medical Association dropped its opposition to aid-in-dying legislation earlier this year, and the Canadian Supreme Court recently ruled it legal as well,” wrote Lisa Schencker of Modern Health Care. “But change, so far, has been slow going despite lawmakers in more than 20 states introducing legalization bills this year.”

She added, “Opponents of the practice, including the American Medical Association, say it’s incompatible with doctors’ roles as healers, could be difficult to control and poses risks to vulnerable individuals.”

Also, even though the key to defeating SB128, a proposed bill in the California legislature this last session, was the opposition of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the disability rights community, stories repeatedly avoided mentioning their role altogether to focus on the Catholic Church’s opposition.

Lead plaintiffs’ attorney John Kappos issued a statement, laced with typically inflammatory language: “We are hopeful an appeals court will recognize the rights of terminally ill adults like Christy O’Donnell, who are facing horrific suffering at the end of their lives that no medication can alleviate, to have the option of medical aid in dying.”

“We’re very pleased to see the judge’s ruling,” said Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. “Where assisted suicide is legal some people’s lives are lost without their consent through mistakes and abuse.”

Categories: Assisted Suicide