CA appeals court tosses lawsuit challenging state's assisted suicide law

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A California appeals court overturned a lower court ruling that found the state's assisted suicide law was unconstitutional.

A panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Riverside on Tuesday said doctors who brought the case did not show they were harmed because they could choose not to help terminally ill patients die.

In finding the doctors represented by The Life Legal Defense Foundation did not have standing, the justices did not rule on the constitutionality of the law.

The law allows adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs if a doctor has determined that they have six months or less to live.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia had declared the law unconstitutional because it was adopted during a special legislative session addressing other matters.

The ruling written by Presiding Justice Manuel Ramirez has no immediate impact on the current status of assisted suicide because the appeals court had reinstated the law during the appeal by the state attorney general.

However, it does set the stage for possible future legal actions. The case was sent back to the lower court and the lawsuit could be amended and refiled.

The court even spelled out how groups challenging the law might be able to show harm.

For example, a district attorney who wanted to prosecute a doctor for helping a patient die or a hospital or medical group that sought to discipline an affiliated doctor who participated in assisted suicide might be able to establish standing, the court said.

Supporters of the law cheered the ruling, but say they expect further challenges from opponents of assisted suicide.

John Kappos, an attorney working with Compassion & Choices, which supported the law said the ruling will strengthen chances of defending the law in the future.

"But the harsh reality is this case is likely to last several more years because the plaintiffs are hell-bent on depriving Californians of their constitutional right to end-of-life care options that ensure terminally ill Californians have access to a peaceful death, free of unbearable suffering," he said in a statement.
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