Doctors sue California over amendments to physician assisted suicide law

Laurel Duggan, DCNF

A physician and an organization of Christian doctors and dentists are suing the state of California over a law that requires doctors to participate in physician-assisted suicide, according to court documents.

California legalized assisted suicide with the 2015 End Of Life Options Act, which initially made physician participation in patients’ suicides optional, according to court documents. Recent changes to the law make some elements of participation mandatory for physicians.

Doctors who refuse to facilitate patient suicides by diagnosing terminal illness, determining a patient’s decision-making capacity or informing patients of their legal right to request lethal medication can face civil and criminal liability and professional discipline, the doctors’ attorneys argued.

For patients to qualify for assisted suicide, they must request lethal drugs on two separate occasions. The early version of the assisted suicide law mandated a 15 day gap between those requests, but the new version only requires 48 hours, according to court documents. Doctors are required to facilitate suicide by recording patients’ requests for lethal medication, which count towards the required two requests, and to pass that along to a second doctor who may administer lethal medication upon request, attorneys explained.

A hospice physician who is suing the state said patients experiencing the pain of terminal illness have dramatic changes in disposition once their pain is controlled, but that the pain can last longer than 48 hours, according to his attorneys.

He also said patients experience exhaustion that makes them vulnerable to pressure from family members to go through with assisted suicide, and said he witnessed one family pressure a patient to undergo the procedure despite the patient’s questionable mental capacity, according to the physician’s attorneys.

Two doctors are fighting to legalize assisted suicide in Massachusetts. Physician-assisted suicide is legal in ten states and the District of Columbia, according to CNN.

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