Judge overturns California’s assisted death law

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A California judge has overturned the state’s controversial assisted death law nearly two years after it took effect, deciding that the Legislature improperly passed the measure during a special health care funding session.

The Riverside County court is holding its Tuesday judgment for five days to allow the state to file an emergency appeal, according to representatives for supporters and opponents of the law. The state reportedly intends to seek an expedited review in an appellate court, The Sacramento Bee reported.

“We’re very satisfied with the court’s decision today,” said Stephen G. Larson, lead counsel for a group of physicians who filed the lawsuit in 2016 in an effort to stop the law. “The act itself was rushed through the special session of the Legislature and it does not have any of the safeguards one would expect to see in a law like this.”

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that he strongly disagreed with the ruling. Joining Becerra, Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, who sponsored the bill, said that Californians who are in the process of obtaining life-ending drugs via the law have had “the carpet ripped out from under their feet.”

“It’s a reminder for all of us that there are those out there who would like to take our rights away,” she said. “When we move forward, there are those who would like to drag us back.”

The assisted death law was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, and allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients with six months or less to live. Hundreds of Californians have chosen to utilize the benefit of the law, which proponents claim provides dignity to terminally ill patients by offering them more control over the end of their lives.

Larson said that the doctors he represents are most concerned about the lack of protections in the law, including an inadequate definition of terminal illness and a provision exempting from liability physicians who prescribe the lethal drugs. The doctors also took issue with the manner in which the law was passed.

“That special session was called to address funding shortages caused by Medi-Cal,” Larson said. “It was not called to address the issue of assisted suicide.”

Following Tuesday’s ruling, the advocacy group Death With Dignity National Center sent out a fundraising email decrying “shadowy, religious-right groups attempting to derail the law any way they can,” and accusing them of “disrespecting the will of the people.”

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