Doctors from the American Academy of Medical Ethics, Life Legal Defense Foundation along with several unaffiliated medical professionals, tried to overturn California’s doctor-assisted suicide law in court.
On Thursday, when the regulations came into effect, a court denied medics the request to suspend the law, but it provided them with a hearing for that purpose at a later date this month. Physicians say that the new law is arbitrary and could leave room to abuse.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that it infringes patients’ civil rights as it is illegal in California to assist or encourage someone to commit suicide. And the End of Life Option Act shields doctors from prosecution if they do so with their terminally ill patients.
Under the new law, terminally ill patients who have less than six months to live, but are mentally competent can request from their physicians lethal medication to speed up their deaths.
California is the fifth U.S. state that adopts such legislation.
Supporters of the law, including Gov. Jerry Brown who signed off the bill last fall believe that relieving patients from excruciating pain is the right thing to do. But opponents think that in fact the law strips extremely distressed patients such as the terminally ill from basic protections awarded to other citizens.
Doctors’ attorney Stephen G. Larson argued that under the state law when somebody displays suicidal behavior is referred immediately to professional help. Those who try to commit suicide receive emergency medical attention and psychiatric evaluation if they survive.
But terminally ill patients who think about killing themselves are being told “Just do it,” opponents of the law say. Plus, their mental health is not assessed by a psychiatrist unless one of the two non-specialist doctors who evaluate the patient has doubts that he or she may be mentally fit for such decision.
“This is very arbitrary, very capricious, very ambiguous — really no accountability,”
said the attorney.
Critics believe that the new legislation is a way of getting rid of people whose suffering we can no longer tolerate. Plus, it can facilitate abuse. One critic noted that although the lethal drug is “self-administered” the law is silent on the requirement to have at least one witness present when the self-administration occurs.
And this could turn assisted-suicide into euthanasia, a common practice used by the Nazis to quietly get rid of unwanted people after they had hospitalized them in psychiatric wards.
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