SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California judge on Tuesday threw out a 2016 state law allowing the terminally ill to end their lives, ruling it was unconstitutionally approved by the Legislature.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia did not rule on the legality of allowing physician-assisted death, but he issued an oral ruling saying lawmakers acted illegally in passing the law during a special session devoted to other topics, said lawyers for supporters and opponents.
Ottolia kept the law in place and gave the state attorney general five days to appeal. Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office did not immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
The Life Legal Defense Foundation, American Academy of Medical Ethics and several physicians challenged the law, which allows terminally ill adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs if a doctor has determined they have six months or less to live. The plaintiffs say the law lacks safeguards to protect against abuse.
California is one of five states in which terminally ill people can end their lives. Oregon was the first to provide the option in 1997.
Since California approved the legislation, hundreds of terminally ill people have requested life-ending drugs, according to state figures and local advocates who track the prescriptions.
California health officials reported that 111 terminally ill people took drugs to end their lives in the first six months after the law went into effect June 9, 2016, and made the option legal in the nation’s most populous state. The next report on how many people took the drugs is due in July.
“Our supporters, they’ve frankly expressed shock at this outcome. They’re disappointed that this end of life option could be taken away,” said John Kappos, an attorney representing Compassion & Choices, a national organization that advocated for the Legislature to pass the law.