California physicians sue state over suicide law



A group of physicians and patients are suing the state of California over a law that they say exposes doctors to criminal prosecution for providing terminally ill patients aid in dying.

Three doctors and three cancer patients – two of whom are also doctors – filed suit against the state Feb. 11, calling on California to clarify a portion of its assisted-suicide statute. The law makes it a felony to deliberately help a person commit suicide.


In their suit, the plaintiffs claim physicians who write prescriptions for mentally competent, terminally ill patients should not face legal penalties. The choice for a peaceful death by a dying patient is not suicide, nor is a physician assisting such a patient in “committing suicide,” the complaint argues. Additionally, the physicians assert that patients facing the end of their lives have a right under the California State Constitution to make autonomous decisions about their bodies and how they will die.

In a February statement, plaintiff Dr. Robert Brody, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said competent, terminally ill adults have the right to a peaceful death in a controlled and clinically sound way.

“The current murky legal landscape means that physicians are placed at risk and must choose between potentially skirting the law to respect their patients’ choices or abandoning them to bad information, uncertainty, or violence,” he said in the statement.

The lawsuit comes after the high-profile death of terminally ill patient Brittany Maynard, who moved from California to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s Death with Dignity law.

The Disability Rights Legal Center, which is representing the plaintiffs in the California case, also recently filed suit in New York over the same issue. In that case, several physicians and patients are asking New York judges to clarify the ability of mentally competent, terminally ill New York patients to obtain aid in dying from their physician.

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