California’s Ban on Physician Aid-in-Dying Challenged in Court

Opening a new front in the right-to-die debate, a San Francisco leukemia patient and her doctors are now trying to achieve through the California courts what voters and state legislators have for decades been unable to do — give physicians the legal right to help dying people end their lives. Through a lawsuit filed last week in San Francisco, lawyers for 53-year-old Christie White and her doctors have joined an emerging legal strategy aimed at going state-by-state to challenge bans on physician-aided dying. Right-to-die advocates continue to press their cause in the political arena, but White’s case has applied a new legal tactic against California’s laws, similar to ones already deployed in states such as New Mexico, Montana and, most recently, New York. The crux of the legal argument is that most state laws forbidding doctor-aided end-of-life treatments are vague and outdated; California’s has been on the books for 140 years. The suit also contends that denying patients such treatment by their doctors and threatening doctors with criminal prosecution violates state constitutional protections, which in California covers privacy, “personal dignity” and autonomy in medical decision-making. “The point of the case is to bring into focus the reality that (choosing end-of-life treatment) is no kind of suicide,” said Kathryn Tucker, a Disability Rights Legal Center attorney representing White in the lawsuit. White’s case comes amid the ongoing, supercharged debate over physician-aided dying, highlighted by Brittany Maynard, whose viral video last year portraying her desire to “die with dignity” revealed how she was forced to move from San Francisco to Oregon to receive life-ending treatment for terminal brain cancer. In a lengthy statement posted on the Disability Rights Legal Center’s website, White outlined why she does not want to be forced into Maynard’s situation, saying if she loses her seven-year battle with leukemia she wants to be able to get her doctors’ help in allowing her to die in her own community. “They are the two civil rights issues of the decade,” Robert Schwartz, a University of New Mexico law professor, said of gay marriage and physician-aided dying. “I think it’s a new strategy (in the California case) and an appropriate strategy.”

Source/more: San Jose Mercury-News

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