Is the End of Life Option Act Unconstitutional?
Two years ago, I published a series of videos discussing the then-new End of Life Option Act (ELOA) in California. (See below for links.) Since then, the ELOA seems to have faded from media coverage, but something happened recently that brought it back into the limelight: It was declared unconstitutional by a California judge in Riverside County.
Why? Keep reading to find out!
Refresher: What is the End of Life Option Act?
Before we get to the judge’s reasoning, let’s start with a quick refresher on the ELOA. In general, the ELOA permits a competent adult with a terminal disease to request and receive an aid-in-dying drug if he or she satisfies several conditions spelled out in the law.
Of course, the law goes into a lot more detail than that general summary, but we don’t need to dive into the minutia to understand what the judge decided. If you’re interested in a more in-depth discussion of the ELOA, see the following videos:
- End of Life Option Act – Basic Overview
- End of Life Option Act – Prescription Requirements
- End of Life Option Act – Law for Administering Prescription Drug
- End of Life Option Act – Built In Protections
Court Rulings on the End of Life Option Act
In mid-May, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia held that the ELOA is unconstitutional. Normally when we read that a law has been struck down, it’s because it violated some constitutional right, like the right to free speech or due process, but that wasn’t the case here. Rather, the problem with the ELOA was how it was passed.
To understand the issue, we need to understand legislative sessions in California. Meetings of the California Legislature are called “sessions,” and there are two types: a regular session and one or more special sessions. The regular session happens regularly (go figure!), but special sessions have to be specially called for by the governor.
During a regular session, the Legislature can enact any legislation or attend to any business it cares to. In contrast, in a special session, it can only act with respect to particular topics chosen by the governor.
And that’s where the problem comes in: The ELOA was passed during a special session called to address Medi-Cal funding. Judge Ottolia decided that the ELOA was not “encompassed by any ‘reasonable construction’” of that mandate. As a result, according to Judge Ottolia, the law is unenforceable.
The Story Doesn’t End There
But Judge Ottolia’s decision isn’t the last word on the ELOA. In mid-June, the California Court of Appeals temporarily reinstated the ELOA while it considered whether Judge Ottolia’s decision was correct. (In legal lingo, the court “stayed” Judge Ottolia’s ruling.)
There’s no telling yet how the Court of Appeals will rule. But for now, Judge Ottolia’s ruling has no immediate impact, given that’s it been stayed by the Court of Appeals. But even if the Court of Appeals eventually adopts Judge Ottolia’s reasoning, nothing would prevent the Legislature from re-enacting the ELOA during their regular session or a special session called for that purpose.
Stay tuned to my blog for updates on this story!