Thursday, October 29, 2015

Donorovich-Odonnell v. Harris (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 29, 2015)

I love it when the Court of Appeal accurately summarizes the case in the first page or so.

As Justice McDonald does here.

It's an opinion of substantial importance.  On a topic about which many people definitely feel strongly.

So even though the whole opinion is worth reading, hopefully the first page will incentivize people to pour through the whole thing:  (I've deleted the citations for easier reading)

"Most states, including California, do not classify suicide or attempted suicide as a crime. Most states, however, including California, impose criminal liability on a person aiding and abetting suicide. Penal Code section 401, in effect since 1873, provides: "Every person who deliberately aids, or advises, or encourages another to commit suicide, is guilty of a felony." The crime is punishable by a state prison term of 16 months, two years, or three years, and a fine of up to $10,000.

On appeal, plaintiffs contend section 401 is inapplicable to physician aid-in-dying because prescribing a lethal dose of drugs a patient may or may not have filled or take is not direct participation in suicide and, in any event, the legislative history of section 401 shows the Legislature never intended that section 401 apply to a person furnishing the means of suicide. Alternatively, plaintiffs contend section 401 as applied to physician aid-in-dying violates the state constitutional right to autonomy privacy.

On October 5, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act, which authorizes a terminally ill patient with the capacity to make medical decisions to request a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs, insulates a prescribing physician from criminal liability, and sets forth rigorous procedures and safeguards to protect against abuse. The parties agree Assembly Bill 15 does not render the appeal moot because it will likely not become effective in time to benefit plaintiffs, particularly Christy Lynne Donorovich Odonnell, given her life expectancy, and the measure's future is uncertain because opponents have filed paperwork with the Attorney General to challenge it by referendum on the state ballot in 2016.

We have great compassion for plaintiffs, but we conclude their statutory and constitutional arguments lack merit. We agree with defendants that physician aid-in-dying, and attendant procedures and safeguards against abuse, are matters for the Legislature. We affirm the judgment for defendants entered after their demurrers to the complaint were sustained."

There's lots more human detail in the opinion.  For example, here's a brief description of one of the plaintiffs:  "Donorovich-Odonnell, who resides in Santa Clarita, suffers from stage IV adenocarcinoma of the left lung, which has metastasized to her brain, liver, spine, and rib. At the time of the complaint's filing in May 2015, her estimated life expectancy was less than six months. She is morphine intolerant and cannot benefit from many of the most common and effective forms of pain management."  California tells her to suck it up.  More accurately, it tells her that she can kill herself if she wants to, but she can't get any help, and she has to do it in a way that's prolonged (e.g., starve herself), painful (e.g., slit her wrists), or ugly (e.g., blow her brains out).

One can have different perspectives on the resulting issues.  But there should be no doubt that this is a vital question.  For Ms. Donorovich-Odonnell as well as for everyone else.

But, as of now, at least, terminally ill patients like Ms. Donorovich-Odonnell get no help at all from the California judiciary.