Pro-Life Group Files Lawsuit to Overturn New California Law Legalizing Assisted Suicide

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Jun 9, 2016   |   12:55PM   |   Washington, DC

A pro-life legal group filed a lawsuit against California’s dangerous new assisted suicide law on Wednesday, saying it could lead to abuses of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

The West Coast state became the fourth in the U.S. to legalize deadly doctor-prescribed suicides in October, following Oregon, Washington and Vermont. Euthanasia advocates pushed for the legislation by using the tragic story of Brittany Maynard, a young woman who had terminal brain cancer. A California native, Maynard moved to Oregon where she committed doctor-prescribed suicide in November 2014. The law, labeled the End of Life Options Act, goes into effect Thursday.

In the lawsuit, Life Legal Defense Foundation argues that the California law discriminates against vulnerable people who are terminally ill and may be elderly or disabled.

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“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 said in a statement. “In contrast, all non-terminally ill Californians enjoy legal protection that makes it a felony to aid, advise, or encourage another to commit suicide.”

Vulnerable patients will not receive the same intervention and protection that others get when they have suicidal thoughts, according the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide. For example, the California law does not require psychological evaluations or counseling for assisted suicide patients, despite strong evidence showing that a strong majority are struggling with depression, the legal group said.

“We are deeply concerned that this law, and the entire issue itself has been misrepresented to the public and to lawmakers,” said clinical psychologist, Dr. Mark Hoffman, spokesman for the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide. “Senator Monning, the initial author, inserted language into the bill falsely proclaiming that this was somehow NOT ‘assisted suicide,’ and was ‘not suicide,’ though it is inescapably so!”

Life Legal filed the civil rights lawsuit with five California physicians and the American Academy of Medical Ethics. It alleges that the assisted suicide law violates Equal Protection rights for individuals who are labeled terminally ill.

“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,” said Alexandra Snyder, Executive Director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation.

Synder said they want the court to uphold civil and criminal laws that should apply equally to all Californians.

Here is more from Life Legal:

The End of Life Option Act also incentivizes the creation of Kevorkian-like suicide pipelines. 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.

Under the Act, “terminal disease” includes any condition that, if left untreated, would cause death within six months. This encompasses many types of illnesses—even those that can be successfully treated—if the patient decides to forego treatment. Moreover, predicting life expectancy is crude and fraught with subjective judgment. Physicians’ predictions for life-expectancy are frequently wrong.

Proponents argue that assisted suicide laws are necessary to provide “compassionate aid in dying for terminally ill patients” and point to safeguards in the law. However, disability rights groups, many in the medical community, pro-lifers and others say there are no real safeguards.

One concern is that doctors are not required to be present when the patient takes the deadly drugs; therefore, there is no way of knowing whether the person is taking the drugs of their own free will.

Profit-driven motives of families, doctors, insurance companies and the state also are concerns. Assisted suicide is cheaper than many medical treatments for the terminally ill and disabled. In Oregon, there have been several cases of cancer patients being pushed toward assisted suicide because it was cheaper than the medical treatment they needed.

Californians Against Assisted Suicide and the Patients Rights Action Fund launched a new watchdog website this week to monitor potential abuses. The website welcomes concerned individuals, family members, friends to bring to light possible coercion, failure to identify depression or other patient mental health concerns, and complications that arise from the overdose prescription or process when assisted suicide is legalized.

The coalition said the law does not provide for investigation of abuse claims.