On December 7, 2022 Justice Vince Chhabria, US District Judge in California approved a motion to dismiss a court case by Dr Lonny Shavelson (supported by the assisted suicide lobby group Compassion and Choices) to extend the California assisted suicide law (end-of-life options act) to include euthanasia. The case is called Shavelson v Bonta.
Euthanasia is an act of injecting a lethal drug cocktail to cause death. Assisted suicide is an act of prescribing the same lethal drug cocktail but the person self-administers.
Shavelson’s attempt to get the court to extend California’s assisted suicide law to include euthanasia was rejected on June 22, 2022. The current decision was a response to Shavelson’s attempt to amend the case.
Justice Chhabria approved the motion to dismiss the case and stated that any further amendment to the case would be futile. Chhabria wrote:
It seems unlikely that that the plaintiffs could adequately allege (and ultimately demonstrate) standing under this alternative reading of the requested accommodation if given another attempt. But even if they did, the Court would dismiss the lawsuit on the merits. Setting aside the assistance prohibition would cross the sharp line drawn by the California Legislature between assisted suicide and euthanasia, and thus would fundamentally alter the nature of the program for the same basic reasons discussed in the prior ruling. Shavelson, 2022 WL 2234973. And that dismissal would be with prejudice, given the number of chances the plaintiffs have now had to state a claim.
The dismissal for lack of jurisdiction is therefore without leave to amend—it is clear by now that further amendment would be futile.
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On June 23, 2022, Chhabria rejected the argument by Shavelson that euthanasia needed to be an accomodation when a person is unable to self-administer. According to Maria Dinzeo who reported on June 22 for the Court House News Service:
A federal judge said he cannot allow an Americans with Disabilities Act carveout to California’s assisted suicide law that would let doctors assist people too weak or disabled to ingest end-of-life medication, finding that such a provision would “fundamentally alter” the law from conferring the ability to take your own life to having a doctor do it for you.
I published an article on August 30, 2021 explaining that Shavelson had challenged the state assisted suicide act to permit euthanasia. The case argued that some people with disabilities, when approved for assisted suicide, are unable to self-administer the lethal drugs. Shavelson argued that based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the court must permit euthanasia (doctor administered death) in these cases.
On September 13, 2021 I wrote that the California court must reject the challenge to the state assisted suicide act based on (among other reasons):
- The Supreme Court, in Glucksberg, recognized that there is no right to assisted suicide and it recognized that one state interests in prohibiting assisted suicide was the prevention of euthanasia. This court case specifically seeks to permit euthanasia.
- There is no right to assisted suicide, therefore there is no obligation to amend the “perceived” inequality within the state assisted suicide law.
- Permitting euthanasia is not an extension of the state assisted suicide law but rather it required the court to legislate the legalization of euthanasia, which is a form of homicide.
Thankfully Chhabria was not willing to legislate from the bench. I predict that the attempt to expand state assisted suicide laws to include death by lethal injection (euthanasia) has only begun. It is likely that Shavelson will appeal the decision.
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