DRLC files lawsuit challenging physician-assisted suicide bans

Photo of several bottles of medications.
Physician-assisted suicide debate continues

While disability rights groups from California to New York are pushing back against efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide, one major disability rights group is going in the opposite direction.

On February 11, the Disability Rights Legal Center filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the State of California in the City and County of San Francisco, urging the court to interpret physician-assisted suicide as legal under state law.

“This Court is called upon to clarify the rights of mentally competent, terminally ill patients regarding how much suffering they must endure before death arrives, and the intertwined rights of physicians to respect, in the exercise of their professional judgment, the wishes of their mentally competent, terminally ill patients who request aid in dying.” the DRLC wrote in the lawsuit.

Under a California statute, last updated in 1874, “every person who deliberately aids, or advises, or encourages another to commit suicide, is guilty of a felony.”

The DRLC argues that this statute should not be interpreted to ban physician-assisted suicide, on the basis that the statute does not reference physicians and that the law preceded modern debates on the role of so-called Death with Dignity laws, which exist in Oregon, Washington and Vermont.

At the federal level, the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the U.S. Constitution does not recognize a right to physician-assisted suicide. DRLC argues that the California Constitution, which contains an explicit right to privacy, provides greater protections, and that the right to physician-assisted suicide is an outgrowth of other previously recognized fundamental rights.

“It is well established under California law that the rights of autonomy and privacy guarantee that terminally ill, mentally competent individuals need not artificially suspend death or undergo unwanted treatment to sustain life that is painful, dehumanizing, or against their will,” the lawsuit states. “The California Constitution’s guarantee of privacy should similarly require that terminally ill, mentally competent persons have the autonomy and self-determination over their own bodies to choose a peaceful death through aid in dying.”

Courts in New Mexico and Montana have found that their state constitutions encompass a right to physician-assisted suicide.

DRLC, along with End of Life Choices New York, filed a similar lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court on February 4, arguing that New York State law should be interpreted as not prohibiting physician-assisted suicide.

In the past two months, a record number of Death with Dignity bills have been introduced in state legislatures, many triggered by the highly publicized saga of Brittany Maynard, a recently married woman who ended her life in November upon the onset of brain cancer.

4 responses to “DRLC files lawsuit challenging physician-assisted suicide bans

  1. final exit, good read. Work in hospice or medical field may change your mind. Adore 26 yr old Californian that moved to Oregon. She knew what lay ahead.

  2. Pharmacists help people who are experiencing severe pain; the key is to make sure all the drugs necessary for the quantity of painful sickness the population is experiencing are available for them, and not falling into the hands of the recreational and illegal drug markets.

    The assisted suicide ideology is against the physician Hippocratic Oath. As the statistics currently show in the European countries, which have legalized this, the numbers increase year after year, indicating the legalization creates a “slippery slope.”

    I disagree with using our healing professionals to implement death. Death is up to God, not us human beings.

  3. Physician-assisted suicide
    Privacy and autonomy guarantees make a good start on codifying the particulars of this touchy matter, but only a start. The service is necessary, doubtless. Whether those pledged to “do no harm“ are able to parse “do no harm” to fit this need, professionally, is a further challenge.

    A big one is the lapse in how our society values human life. Child abuse, elder abuse, disability abuse, mental health abuse, income abuse, religious, racial, ethnic, sexual orientation intolerance, one-size-fits-all 3-tier healthcare, cuts in human services… the list is depressing and long.

    Legislating/micromanaging social mores has proven to be cumbersome and frustratingly incomplete at best, with attorneys who, for big enough fees —or merely the challenge— will finagle/subvert the intent and purpose of the law, thus compromising the fabric and structure of our social concillium.

    The greater question remains: have we the wisdom and the fortitude to protect life while acknowledging the completion that death offers? Been there, done that.

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