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Judge Tosses California Law Allowing Life-Ending Drugs

May 16, 2018 1:44 p.m.

Judge Tosses California Law Allowing Life-Ending Drugs


Thaddeus Pope, director, Health Law Institute at Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Related Story: Judge Tosses California Law Allowing Life-Ending Drugs


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Our top story on midday addition, opponents of California's end-of-life law are celebrating a Riverside judge's ruling, the Superior Court judge has overturned the law which allows terminally ill Californians to choose to end their lives with a doctor's help. The judge gave the state attorney general five days to file an appeal, before the law is invalidated. A lawsuit challenging the end-of-life law was brought by life legal defense. A right to life group who made a number of arguments against the substance of the law, but apparently the one that stuck was a procedural argument about how the state legislature went about approving the law. Joining me is Thaddeus Pope, he is director of the Mitchell Hamline school of laws health Law Institute and he has been following the California lawsuit. Thaddeus Pope, welcome.
>> Thank you.
>> Can you explain what we know about the stretches ruling and why does he say to aid in dying law is unconstitutional?
>> The point, they argue that because the act was enacted in a special session, which was called by the governor, it is unconstitutional because when the governor calls a special session, the only legislation that can be enacted during that special session, is legislation that fits within the scope of the governors acclamation. The primary purpose of the proclamation and the special session was Medi-Cal funding and healthcare finance. So life legal defense fund argued and the judge agreed that the end-of-life options act, did not fit within the subject matter of the governors proclamation that called the special session. The governor also clearly wrote that it was also called to improve the efficacy of the healthcare system and to improve the health of California. So water language covering anything related to health care was also specifically included in the proclamation.
>> Is it possible that Governor Brown could be asked to clarify, what kind of leeway he gave to legislators during this special session since it was his proclamation?
>> Well, it sounds like the trial court has already issued its order on the plaintiff's motion. And normally, evidence is only gathered at the trial court level. Although, yes, the parties may try to look to other statements of the governor, as to what it is that he intended the scope of his proclamation to be. At the end of the day, it is not clear that it is even going to matter, because it is clear that the scope of the proclamation covers anything related to healthcare, so the bait here is not whether this proclamation is a narrowly limited to healthcare finance, or more broadly limited to healthcare. Instead, the question is whether the end-of-life options act even relates to health. Or healthcare. That is probably as broad as the proclamation could possibly be construed.
>> Now, the California's end-of-life option law has been in effect for almost two years, what would be the ramifications in California if this ruling overturned that law and is affirmed. In other words, if this law goes away?
>> Right, it would be pretty dramatic, so we know from the first state Department of Public health reports, just in the sixth month's -- six months of 2016, it was in effect around 200 Californians used it, that was of course the first six months it was in effect. So normally, more people use it after it has more of a track record and more hospitals implement procedures, so probably in today's numbers 12 2000 Californians would be deprived of this option at the end of their life each year. Until any statute were enacted by the legislature all over from scratch.
>> Now, a number of other states have aid in dying laws, and I am wondering if they have been successfully challenged and reversed anywhere else?
>> No other states end-of-life option act, and there are seven other states in which this is a legal option at the end of life, has had their law successfully challenged. At least ultimately. So the main state to look to is Oregon, because they were first. So, all the challenges that you could think of were brought against the organ act and ultimately, at least they were all unsuccessful, which by the way, most of the constitutional challenges in this lawsuit, were already raised against the organ statute years ago and were unsuccessful. Which is why the only potentially successful argument, against the California statute was this special session provision of the state constitution. All the other ones have already been tried and failed, so there is no reason to think that they would've been successful here.
>> I have been speaking with Thaddeus Pope, director of the Mitchell Hamline school of lawless health Law Institute and thank you so much.
>> Thank you.