[JURIST] A group of five doctors and the American Academy of Medical Ethics (AAME) [advocacy website] filed suit [application, PDF] Wednesday challenging a physician-assisted suicide law. The End of Life Option Act would allow “terminally-ill” patients, an individual who, determined within reasonable medical certainty, is going to die in 60 days due to an incurable disease, to be given a prescription for a lethal dose of “aid-in-dying” drugs. Those challenging the legislation argue that, “[t]he Act violates the equal protection and due process guarantees of the California Constitution in that it fails to make rational distinctions between [‘terminally ill’ citizens] , and the vast majority of Californians not covered by the Act.” They argue that the term “terminally ill” is unconstitutionally vague and for that reason the law would “deprive individuals the protection of previously-existing California laws against assisted suicide by unconstitutionally creating a class of persons again based on arbitrary, unreasonable, and irrational distinctions.” Finally, they argue that the legislature lacked constitutional authority to legislate on the matter of physician-assisted suicide during an extraordinary legislative session.
The aid-in-dying movement has garnered substantial legal debate around the world in the past few years. In the US, four states currently have legislation that allow physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to some patients: California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. In Montana the state’s highest court has ruled that assisted suicide is not explicitly banned [JURIST report] by state law or public policy, meaning consent could be raised as a defense in a potential prosecution of a physician. In July California lawmakers ended a previous legislative effort [JURIST report] to enact the End of Life Option Act, as the former right-to-die bill had been amended several times over the previous year. The law was hotly debated when 29-year-old Brittany Maynard [CNN backgrounder] moved from San Francisco to Oregon, which allows physician-assisted suicide, so that she could die on her own terms after being diagnosed with brain cancer. Last June the European Court of Human Rights [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a French court’s decision allowing Vincent Lambert the right to die, stating it did not violate article 2 of European Convention on Human Rights. In May 2015 a Dutch court acquitted [JURIST report] a man of all criminal charges for assisting his 99-year-old mother in committing suicide. Also that month, an 84-year old attorney, businessman and political candidate filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in Tennessee, challenging a law that makes it a felony for a doctor or another person to help someone commit suicide.