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End of Life Option Act reinstated while state appellate court reviews its constitutionality



June 18, 2018
Area(s) of Interest: End of Life Issues 

A state appellate court has stayed the Riverside County Superior Court’s judgment issued on May 24, 2018, declaring California’s End of Life Option Act void and unconstitutional. Due to the lower court’s judgment, physicians had been advised against relying on the Act to prescribe aid-in-dying medication in caring for patients with terminal illnesses. The appellate court’s stay effectively reinstates the California’s aid-in-dying law for the time-being, while the courts consider the constitutional questions surrounding the Act.

The California Attorney General’s Office requested the stay to alleviate the confusion caused by the Act’s invalidation. Edward Damrose, M.D., chief of staff at Stanford Health Care hospital and clinics, submitted a supporting declaration and stated that the “uncertainty over the Act is disrupting and impeding the ability of physicians to care for terminally-ill patients,” and that a stay is needed to “afford more time to physicians to transition their practice and treatment of terminally-ill patients.” Fourteen other declarations were submitted by terminally-ill patients, other physicians and state officials. “It is clear that, without a stay,” the Attorney General argued, “terminally ill patients will suffer great harm, and some will be forever foreclosed from benefiting from any relief that this Court might eventually provide in a decision on the merits.”

While the Act currently remains in full force and effect due to the appellate court’s stay order, the Act’s fate ultimately remains unresolved. Under the California Constitution, the legislature has authority to pass laws in a special legislative session only if they fall within, or are reasonably related to, the scope of a governor’s proclamation calling for the special session. The lower court’s judgment reasoned that the Act was unconstitutional because it was not reasonably related to the health care issues that were the subject of Governor Brown’s proclamation for a special session in fall 2015. The appellate court has ordered full briefing on this constitutional question to be completed by July 25, 2018. Oral argument will then be scheduled and a decision from the appellate court can be expected within 30-45 days thereafter.

For more information, or if you would like to discuss the potential impact of the trial court’s decision on your practice, contact the California Medical Association’s Legal Information Line at (800) 786-4262 or legalinfo@cmanet.org.

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