State to defend California law allowing life-ending drugs

Posted: Updated:
(Niels Alpert via AP, File). FILE - In this Sunday, July 24, 2016, file photo provided by Niels Alpert, Betsy Davis smiles during her "Right To Die Party" in Ojai, Calif. Davis threw herself the party as she became one of the first to use a California ... (Niels Alpert via AP, File). FILE - In this Sunday, July 24, 2016, file photo provided by Niels Alpert, Betsy Davis smiles during her "Right To Die Party" in Ojai, Calif. Davis threw herself the party as she became one of the first to use a California ...
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File). File - In this Sept. 24, 2015 file photo, supporters of a measure to allow the terminally ill to end their own life march at the Capitol while calling on California Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the bill in Sacramento, Cal... (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File). File - In this Sept. 24, 2015 file photo, supporters of a measure to allow the terminally ill to end their own life march at the Capitol while calling on California Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the bill in Sacramento, Cal...
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File). FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2015, file photo, Dan Diaz holds a photo of his late wife, Brittany Maynard, taken on their wedding day, during a rally calling for California Gov. Jerry Brown to sign right-to-die legislation... (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File). FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2015, file photo, Dan Diaz holds a photo of his late wife, Brittany Maynard, taken on their wedding day, during a rally calling for California Gov. Jerry Brown to sign right-to-die legislation...
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File). FILE - In this March 25, 2015, file photo, a portrait of Brittany Maynard sits on the dais of the Senate Health Committee as lawmakers heard testimony on proposed legislation allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending ... (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File). FILE - In this March 25, 2015, file photo, a portrait of Brittany Maynard sits on the dais of the Senate Health Committee as lawmakers heard testimony on proposed legislation allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending ...

By DON THOMPSON
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Betsy Davis threw herself a party before becoming one of the first people to use a California law allowing her to take her own life in 2016.

Her sister and other advocates fear others won't have the same choice after a Riverside County judge threw out the law Tuesday because he said it was unconstitutionally approved by the Legislature.

Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia ruled lawmakers illegally passed the law during a special session devoted to other topics.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a one-sentence statement Wednesday that "we strongly disagree with this ruling" and that he will seek an expedited appeal.

The law allows adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs if a doctor determines they have six months or less to live, but plaintiffs say it lacks safeguards to protect against abuse.

Davis would have been devastated by Ottolia's decision, said her sister, Kelly Davis.

"It gave her back control of her life, it let her die on her own terms," she said.

Betsy Davis was 41 when she took a fatal dose of morphine, pentobarbital and chloral hydrate prescribed by her doctor. She'd been diagnosed three years earlier with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which slowly robbed her of her ability to use her muscles.

She celebrated the end of her life with more than two-dozen friends during a two-day party in Ojai, California, giving away her possessions and ordering her favorite foods.

"I keep thinking of all the people who are facing a terminal illness and they're considering the use of this law, and they're in limbo right now and this right might be taken away from them," her sister said.

Alexandra Snyder, an attorney and executive director of Life Legal Defense Foundation, one of the plaintiffs, said Ottolia properly ruled that lawmakers effectively "hijacked" a special legislative session that was called to address access to medical care.

"Access to health care has no relationship to assisted suicide," she said, saying passing the law set a dangerous precedent that undermines the legislative process.

Opponents have argued hastening death is morally wrong, puts terminally ill patients at risk for coerced death by loved ones and could become a way out for people who are uninsured or fearful of high medical bills.

Democratic Sen. Bill Monning of Carmel, who carried the original legislation, argued the bill was properly considered, but said lawmakers could try to pass it again if the law ultimately is rejected by the courts.

So far, he said, there has been "not a single report of malfeasance or problems."

California health officials reported that 111 terminally ill people took drugs to end their lives in the first six months after the law went into effect June 9, 2016, and made the option legal in the nation's most populous state.

Compassion & Choices, a national organization that advocated for the law, estimated that in its first year, 504 Californians requested prescriptions for medical aid in dying.

"Our supporters, they've frankly expressed shock at this outcome. They're disappointed that this end of life option could be taken away," John Kappos said, an attorney representing the organization.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

sorry to interrupt
your first 20 are free
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please enjoy 20 complimentary views of articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.
you have reached your 20 view limit
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please login or create an account to continue enjoying News12.
Our sign-up page is undergoing maintenance and is not currently available. However, you will be given direct access to news12.com while we complete our upgrade.
When we are back up and running you will be prompted at that time to complete your sign in. Until then, enjoy the local news, weather, traffic and more that's "as local as local news gets."