May 30, 2018
Area(s) of Interest: End of Life Issues Patient Care
California’s End of Life Option Act was recently invalidated by a Riverside County Superior Court judgment in Ahn v. Hestrin, issued on May 24, 2018. The Act was enacted during a special session of the California legislature that had been called by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2015.
The court judgment declared the Act void for violating the California Constitution because, according to the trial court, the Act is not reasonably related to the health care issues that were the subject of Governor Brown's special session proclamation. Consequently, the judgment prohibits the State from recognizing or enforcing the Act. The judgment also prohibits the Riverside District Attorney from recognizing any criminal exceptions that had been created in the Act in the exercise of his criminal enforcement duties.
California’s Attorney General has appealed and will be requesting an appellate court to stay the trial court’s judgment from taking effect and thereby keep the Act in place while the appeal is decided. The appellate court denied an earlier request for a stay before the trial court’s judgment had been entered.
California became the fifth state in the nation to allow physicians to prescribe terminally ill patients medication to end their lives. The Act permits terminally ill adult patients with capacity to make medical decisions to be prescribed an aid-in-dying medication if certain conditions are met. The California Medical Association (CMA) took a neutral position on the Act when it was approved by the legislature.
Unless and until the trial court’s judgment is stayed, the End of Life Option Act is currently invalid and unenforceable. Physicians should consult with their attorneys if they have any questions about the impact of this litigation on their practice or on their patients. CMA is closely monitoring the state's appeal and will advise physicians of new developments.
For more information, or if you would like to discuss the potential impact of the trial court's decision on your practice, contact CMA’s Legal Information Line at (800) 786-4262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.