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Christian Doctors Sue California Over Forced Participation in Assisted Suicides

02-23-2022
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A California Christian physician and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA) have filed a federal lawsuit against the state of California for revisions to a law that now requires doctors to participate in physician-assisted suicide, which violates their religious convictions and professional ethics.

Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a religious rights law firm, are representing Dr. Leslee Cochrane, M.D., and the CMDA in their lawsuit Christian Medical & Dental Associations v. Bonta filed Tuesday against the state. 

California first legalized physician-assisted suicide in 2015 with its passage of the controversial End of Life Option Act or SB 380. It was signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown (D).  The law allows an adult diagnosed with a terminal disease, who meets certain qualifications, to request aid-in-dying drugs from their attending physician. 

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According to court documents, despite the medical-ethics consensus that no physician should be forced to participate in physician-assisted suicide even where the practice is allowed, California recently legislated to not only eliminate important safeguards from the End of Life Options Act but also to force conscientious physicians to participate in the process.

The lawsuit argues, "The original End of Life Options Act provided broad protection for conscientiously objecting physicians, but SB 380 eliminates or limits that protection by requiring the objecting physician to:

  • Document the date of a patient's initial assisted-suicide request, which counts as the first of two required oral requests;
  • Transfer the records, including that first oral request, to a subsequent physician who may complete the assisted suicide;
  • Diagnose whether a patient has a terminal disease, inform the patient of the medical prognosis, and determine whether a patient has the capacity to make decisions, all of which are statutorily required steps toward assisted suicide;
  • Provide information to a patient about the End of Life Options Act;
  • Provide a requesting patient with a referral to another provider who may complete the assisted suicide.

"Our clients seek to live out their faith in their medical practice, and that includes valuing every human life entrusted to their care. Participating in, or referring a patient for, physician-assisted suicide very clearly would violate their consciences," said ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle, director of the ADF Center for Life. "No health care professional should be forced to act against their religious beliefs and medical ethics, and the state of California is wrong to enforce such coercion."

"Allowing doctors to exercise their best medical judgment consistent with their personal moral principles has long been widely accepted in the medical community; that includes allowing them to decline to participate in ending a patient's life," said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. "It's vital that the state protect faith-based physicians so they can continue to offer their valuable services to their communities without violating their deeply held religious beliefs—the very beliefs that made them passionate to serve others through this profession."

Catherine Short of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, one of more than 3,500 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case.

CBN News has reached out to the office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta and State Public Health Officer and Director Tomás Aragón MD, DrPH, who were both named as defendants in the lawsuit for comment. 

In an emailed statement to CBN News Thursday, the Attorney General's press office said, "SB 380 reduced the waiting period for terminally ill individuals who have chosen to end their life via medication prescribed by participating health care providers. The Attorney General will continue to enforce and defend the law."

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