A cancer patient and five physicians filed a lawsuit exemption, from a state ban on assisted suicide, for physicians who help terminally ill patients end their lives. A 53-year-old Christie White, a leukemia-stricken San Francisco woman, is the lead patient in a lawsuit.
Ms. White seeks the law allowing terminally ill patients to die at their own choosing. Earlier this week, she told that she wants to be able to gather her loved ones and meet her death with peace of mind, when and if the time comes.
Lawyers for White and three other patients, in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court, noted that mental health professional draw a significant distinction between aid-in-dying and suicide – citing a 1997 statement by the American Psychological Association.
California law already protects many end-of-life decisions, including a 1976 law permitting mentally competent patients to draw up a living will clarifying the care they don’t want if they become incompetent or unconscious. This law also allows such patients to discontinue ventilators or other life-sustaining treatment at their choosing. Another law permits a patient to request terminal sedation to relive insufferable pain.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that if the current law prohibits a physician from prescribing life-ending medication to a competent, terminally ill patient, then it possibly violates the California Constitution’s strong protections for autonomy and privacy.
A group of religious, medical and disability-rights advocates, Californians against Assisted Suicide, has already registered their opposition to a new legislation that aims at permitting physician assistance in dying. The opponents believe that criminal penalties are required to protect depressed patients from being exploited by cost-cutting health insurers or greedy relatives.
Four similar bills have been defeated in 1992 as the California voters rejected an aid-in-dying initiative.
On a positive note, for terminally-ill patients, five states in the U.S. currently allow doctors to prescribe medication to terminally ill, mentally competent patients.