SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A San Francisco cancer patient and a team of right-to-die advocates are suing to make it possible for a doctor to prescribe medication that induces death to a terminally ill patient without the threat of prosecution.
The lawsuit posits that such an act should not be considered assisted suicide, but instead a “peaceful death.”
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in San Francisco by doctors, patients and the Disability Rights Legal Center. One of the patients is 53-year-old leukemia patient, Christie White, of San Francisco.
At a news conference to announce the case, White said, “I am asking the state of California to remove the legal barrier between my doctor and myself to help me achieve a peaceful and dignified death at the place and time of my choosing.”
The lawsuit aims to speed the implementation of the End of Life Option, a bill introduced last month to the California legislature. If passed, it would be legal for patients who have “been determined by his or her attending physician to be suffering from a terminal illness, as defined, to make a request for medication prescribed pursuant to these provisions for the purpose of ending his or her life.”
Four similar bills have been defeated.
White said she does not want risk another such defeat. She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma seven years ago, then with leukemia in 2012. The disease is in partial remission, but she said she is too weak to for chemotherapy or radiation treatments and believes the disease will return. If it does, she does not want to leave her husband, stepdaughter and friends to move to Oregon for physician assistance in dying.
“When and if that time comes I want to be able to gather my family around me and meet my death with dignity,” said White.
California’s current law does protect some end-of-life decisions, such as the right to “terminal sedation” to relieve unbearable pain, or discontinue a ventilator, but right-to-die advocates want to protect physicians who provide medication from prosecution.
Similar laws already exist in several states, including Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.
Last year, Brittany Maynard, a San Francisco woman suffering from cancer, moved to Oregon to legally receive a doctor’s aid-in-dying. Her case received national attention.