When considering health care choices, most people think about doctors, hospitals, treatments and staying well. Thinking about death is not usually part of a healthy lifestyle plan, but in California, the debate on what constitutes health care is open again.
The state has a "right to die" law called the California End of Life Option Act. It was enacted in 2015, and it gives physicians the right to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients. In 2015 when the law began the debate was fast and furious over the definition of health care and if assisted suicide is a healthy choice a patient is entitled to make.
A judge from the Riverside County Superior court struck down the law, however, not because the provisions are illegal, but instead, the lawmakers did not follow procedure when it was enacted. The debate over the bill was controversial at the time, and while it passed the state Senate, it died in Assembly Health Committee. It was a blow to proponents of the bill, so they strategize and came up with a way to pass it.
Governor Jerry Brown had proclaimed a special legislative session to vote on measures that would ensure health care for the state's needy families. Sponsors of the bill re-wrote it so it could be voted on during the special session. However, since the session was called for by Governor Brown to vote on matters "Necessary…to improve the health of Californians" those against the law alleged that an assisted suicide bill was not about keeping citizens healthy and therefore not a valid part of the session.
Opponents of the bill, including the Christian Medical and Dental Society, argued that the session, in which legislators must follow only what is on the agenda, was called for the purposes of funding health care and that assisted suicide was not about preserving health, but instead ending life. The judge in Riverside agreed and overturned the law.
For now, the law will remain on the books while the case goes to the District Court of Appeals and perhaps on to the state Supreme Court. If the higher courts agree, the debate to write and pass a law via the traditional path will begin again. Dr. Lonny Shavelson is a former emergency department doctor who now runs the Berkeley-based practice Bay Area End of Life Options His company works with patients who cannot find a doctor to help them end their lives. He told the Mercury News, "It has thrown more of our patients into a tizzy, calling all upset, thinking they won't have the option unless they do it now. The patients we see are quite sick, quite close to death — and the last thing they need was a procedural kerfuffle like this."
Whatever happens next, the debate over if health care can include assisted suicide and end of life options will continue. The video included here has some personal stories of patients in California who are concerned about this ruling, have a look.