Christian Doctors Sue California Over Law Forcing Them To Participate In Assisted Suicide

doctors looking at x-ray image of patient

A nationwide Christian medical association and a Christian doctor filed a lawsuit against California for mandating physicians to assist patients in suicide against their conscience.

The Christian Medical & Dental Association and Dr. Leslee Cochrane filed the lawsuit on Tuesday through Alliance Defending Freedom, as per CBS News. The case, "Christian Medical & Dental Associations v. Bonta," challenges the amendments made to the 2015 California law, "End of Life Options Act."

In particular, the lawsuit was filed against California Attorney General Rob Bonta, Department of Public Health Director Tomas Aragon, and almost a dozen members of the California Medical Board.

The End of Life Option Act, as per The Christian Post, was signed in October 2015 by former California Governor Jerry Brown. The law took effect in June 2016, which made the state the fifth in the country that allows patients to end their lives through the assistance of doctor-prescribed medication.

As per the lawsuit, the original End of Life Option Act does not force physicians to participate in assisted suicide. Yet the state, in its recent amendment, removed such safeguards and mandated physicians to participate in the process against their conscience.

"Despite the medical-ethics consensus that, even where the practice is allowed, no physician should be forced to participate in assisted suicide, the State of California recently eliminated important safeguards from the End of Life Options Act and now forces conscientious physicians to participate in assisted suicide in several ways," the lawsuit said.

The amended End of Life Option Act also requires physicians to inform patients about the law and to refer patients to other doctors when declining requests for assisted suicide. Physicians are also mandated to record patients' requests for assisted suicide. The law also requires two requests for assisted suicide before it may be administered and shortens the time frame given to terminally-ill patients between requests to 48 hours.

ADF said that the Christian Medical & Dental Association, whose members include Cochrane, oppose the practice of assisted suicide due to professional ethics and religious convictions. The lawsuit stressed that 90% of members would rather stop practicing their medical profession than be forced to participate in practices that violate their conscience, such as assisting patients with suicide.

The lawsuit also cited the physician's Oath that states no lethal drug will be given to any patient when a doctor is asked to do so or when a doctor is asked to advise on it. Supreme Court cases, such as Roe v. Wade, were cited in the lawsuit to underscore the respect given to the physician's oath and a physician's good medical judgment.

Alliance Defending Freedom Center for Life Director Denise Harle raised that the state have no right to coerce the plaintiffs or any medical professional to act against medical ethics and religious beliefs. While Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot reminded the role of the state to protect religious liberty.

Theriot also highlighted the role of the doctor to assess what is best for their patients, which includes declining requests to end their life.

"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," Theriot said in a statement.

"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," he added.

The Christian Medical & Dental Associations v. Bonta is not the first lawsuit against the California law. When the 2015 law was implemented, a lawsuit was filed by Stephanie Packer and various groups, who contested the lack of safeguards in the law. Packer and companions also rejected the law to be considered as healthcare.

California's Riverside Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia ruled against the law in May 2018, citing the unconstitutional manner legislators passed it. The California 4th District Court of Appeals overturned Ottolia's decision months after, since the plaintiffs were deficient in standing to sue. The appeals court decided last November 2021 that the lawsuit was moot in line with amendments being done by legislators on the law.