A Riverside County (California) Superior Court Judge, Daniel Ottolia, entered an order on Friday, May 25, in Ahn v Hestrin, holding as invalid California’s End of Life Option Act, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in June 2016. The order effectively brings to a halt a law which has brought relief to some 500 Californians facing an end of life dilemma, who would prefer to hasten an imminent death due to an incurable terminal illness in the comfort of their home or other preferred place, rather than suffer pointlessly.
The Superior Court decision is being appealed by California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerro who was unable to stay the application of Judge Ottolia’s ruling.
The plaintiffs, several religiously-motivated physicians, brought the suit almost immediately after the End of Life Option Act went into effect in June 2016. Judge Ottolia had initially refused to stay implementation of the act pending resolution of the plaintiffs’ claims.
It should be noted that the plaintiffs are alleging that the End of Life Option Act, which was introduced and debated during an extraordinary legislative session called for by Governor Brown to discuss “access to healthcare services”, does not constitute a matter of healthcare policy. This argument seems counterintuitive if not nonsensical since MAID is by its very nature an issue of access to a fundamental healthcare practice, and since Governor Brown, who called the extraordinary session, supported and signed the legislation. Nevertheless the plaintiffs chose their forum wisely, targeting a judge with known sympathies.
It is unlikely that Judge Ottolia’s ruling will stand the scrutiny of an appeal to the California Supreme Court, but for the time being, it is a setback and a bitter disappointment to some of the most vulnerable and suffering Californians.