Our advocacy on behalf of Californians with terminal illnesses involving progressive loss of physical ability has been joined by a group of four organizations who provide support to and advocate on behalf of people with terminal illnesses and disabilities. The case was filed in August of 2021, and is discussed HERE.
California’s End of Life Options Act (EOLA) discriminates against physically disabled patients. The law allows mentally competent terminally ill adults to obtain medication that can be ingested to achieve a peaceful death. This option is known as aid in dying (“AID”). However, the law prohibits assisting a patient with ingesting the medication. Californians whose physical disability prevents them from ingesting the AID medicine without assistance are thus denied access, they are unable to achieve a peaceful death via AID.
The State has moved to dismiss the case arguing, inter alia, that these patients can access AID but must do so earlier, before their illness causes so much physical disability that they cannot ingest without assistance. This perverse position would force such patients to ingest the medication prematurely, depriving them of a period of precious life, and time with loved ones. The entire purpose of the Act is to empower the patient with autonomy to decide if, and if so, when, to ingest the medication to achieve a peaceful death. The State’s position would nullify such autonomy for this group of physically disabled patients.
This civil rights class action seeks to rectify the exclusion of physically disabled individuals from the End of Life Option Act (EOLOA), calling for reasonable modification of the assistance prohibition, to ensure that physically disabled Californians are afforded equal benefit of the Act.
Four organizations joined in filing an amicus brief supporting plaintiffs’ opposition to the State’s Motion to Dismiss. These groups include:
- Golden West Chapter, ALS Association – This organization serves patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (“ALS”), a debilitating, deadly disease that causes the progressive loss of bodily function and integrity. Golden West is among the largest ALS care organizations in the United States.
- End of Life Choices California – This organization provides information and support to terminally ill Californians.
- Crip Justice – This organization is led by people with disabilities to support people with disabilities and advocates for people with disabilities to maintain their bodily autonomy and make their own medical decisions.
- Disability Justice Law and Organizing Project – This organization supports people with disabilities in the fight against discrimination, engaging multi-pronged strategies for change, which are directly informed by the experiences of its clients and the population that it serves.
These amici assert that EOLOA is not accessible to terminally ill patients who have physical disabilities and that reasonable modification is required to avoid impermissible discrimination against this population.
Amici are represented by Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, including attorneys in both the firm’s San Francisco and New York offices.
The plaintiffs are represented by long-time patient rights advocate Kathryn Tucker, Special Counsel at Emerge Law Group. Tucker is past Executive Director of the Disability Rights Legal Center, and the End of Life Liberty Project, which was a sponsored project of UCSF / UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science and Health Policy. Prior to that she served as Director of Advocacy and Legal Affairs at Compassion & Choices for many years. Tucker has litigated many cases concerning the rights of patients with terminal illness, including Glucksberg v WA, Quill v NY, Baxter v Montana, Bergman v Eden Medical Center, Hargett v Vitas, AIMS et al v DEA.