Stephen G. Larson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the law should be overturned because it was improperly rushed through a special session of the legislature under “extraordinary circumstances.”

By Deepa Bharath | dbharath@scng.com | Orange County Register
Published: May 15, 2018 at 4:47 pm | UpdatedD: May 15, 2018 at 7:18 pm

RIVERSIDE — A judge in Riverside County granted a motion Tuesday to overturn the state’s End of Life Option Act, which allows terminally ill Californians to end their life, legally, with a lethal drug.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia said the legislature violated the state’s constitution by passing the right-to-die law during a special session that was limited to healthcare issues. Ottolia gave the state attorney general five days to appeal Tuesday’s ruling before it takes effect.

The attorney general’s office said shortly after the ruling that the state will appeal.

“We strongly disagree with this ruling and the State is seeking expedited review in the Court of Appeal,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a released statement.

The law passed in 2016 after gaining public support based on the advocacy of UC Irvine graduate Brittany Maynard. Two years earlier Maynard, 29, who had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, publicized videos of her final weeks after she moved to Oregon to avail herself of the state’s Death With Dignity Act. Videos of her decision to take her own life, on Nov. 1, 2014 — and to urge passage of an assisted-death law in California — were viewed by millions.

California’s End of Life Option Act requires patients to get approval from two physicians, and mandates a 15-day waiting period between the two oral requests they must submit, one to each doctor, before they can obtain the lethal drug to end their life. Under the law, patients must be of sound mind and able to administer the drug on their own.

In July, the California Department of Public Health released a report showing that in the second half of 2016 the law was used by 191 terminally-ill Californians, who obtained lethal drug prescriptions from 173 doctors. The report said 111 people actually used the drug to end their lives.

California is one of seven states, including Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii and the District of Columbia, to have a right-to-die law in place.

But many people and organizations continue to oppose the law on philosophical grounds, and legal challenges have come from, among others, the group of physicians who are plaintiffs in the Riverside case.

Stephen G. Larson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the law should be overturned because it was improperly rushed through a special session of the legislature under “extraordinary circumstances.”

“The law had been voted down in general session numerous times over the last 20 years,” Larson said, adding that it was hurriedly passed in a session that was called to discuss other healthcare issues.

“This rush contributed to a lot of the fundamental flaws in the statute, including an amorphous definition of terminal illness, which is unworkable and subject to abuse,” he said.

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