California's
Assisted suicide LAW

Is Inherently
Discriminatory 

That’s why we filed a lawsuit in federal court to

protect the the rights of people with disabilities by

permanently enjoining California’s assisted suicide law.

That’s why we filed a lawsuit in federal court to protect the the rights of people with disabilities by permanently enjoining California’s assisted suicide law.

TIMELINE OF THE CASE

WHO ARE THE PLAINTIFFS?

Organizational Plaintiffs

Individual Plaintiffs

WHO ARE THE LAWYERS?

Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP logo
Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP

Michael Bien
Van Swearingen
Kara Janssen
Michael Nuñez
*Joining as co-counsel, Haben Girma

WHY THIS CASE IS IMPORTANT

The System is Broken

Adult disabled man in wheelchair in the park

The system is broken, inequities in healthcare abound, and insurers care more about their bottom line than people.

Throughout modern history to the present day, the lives of people with disabilities have been devalued in a society that sees our lives as less worth living, less worthy of scarce medical resources and healthcare dollars, better off dead.

We are individuals with disabilities and non-profit organizations that work for disability and patient rights. As we find ourselves fighting for healthcare equity – the basic care, long term services and supports, and durable medical equipment we need to live – enter California’s so-called ‘End of Life Options Act’ (EOLOA).

Under EOLOA, people with life-threatening disabilities and only people with life-threatening disabilities who say they want to die can get a state-facilitated death. Everyone else gets suicide prevention and the protections afforded by the law and professional standards. That’s not choice, it’s eugenics.

People of color, especially those who are economically marginalized, are more likely to be steered towards suicide by their providers, who may view their lives as less worthy of preservation due to the combined forces of racism and ableism. Research has documented Black, Asian, and Hispanic persons regularly experience “barriers to palliative/hospice care utilization.” A 2016 JAMA Internal Medicine study found that hospice patients were less likely to be visited by staff in their last two days of life if they were Black. Even more alarming, California nursing facilities with higher numbers of Black and Latino residents have “had higher rates of death.” Stopping California’s assisted suicide law is both a disability rights and health equity issue.

EOLOA violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the US Constitution, so we filed a case in federal district court asking for it to be permanently enjoined as inherently discriminatory.

LEGAL SYNOPSIS

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in various aspects of life including medical treatment.  The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life functions. The ADA also protects people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability, as well as individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability.

Individuals who are facing life-threatening conditions qualify as people with disabilities under the ADA, as those conditions themselves not only cause physical and/or mental impairments, but are also impairments that substantially limit major life functions.  The lawsuit seeks to establish that California’s assisted suicide law is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the equal protection and substantive due process clauses of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

No state in America criminalizes someone killing themselves, but they do criminalize someone assisting another to take their own life, except in states that have legalized assisted suicide and carved some people out of this protection. In those places, there is a two-tiered system of law and medicine, where a medical professional would be subject to civil and professional liability if they did not provide non-disabled people or people with non-life-threatening disabilities suicide prevention, according to the standard of care, if those people expressed a desire to harm or kill themselves in a medical setting. If those same professionals actually helped the person kill themselves by providing the means, i.e., a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs, that medical professional would also be criminally liable under manslaughter statutes for helping another person die by suicide.

People with life-threatening disabilities, however, are not afforded the same criminal, civil, and professional liability protections as everyone else where assisted suicide is on the books. When they get suicide assistance on the basis of their disability, namely the condition that is given a 6-month or less prognosis, this is treating members of a protected class in a different way than everyone else, thereby violating the anti-discrimination law that protects the civil rights and inherent equal human dignity of people with disabilities. 

California’s assisted suicide law, the so-called ‘End of Life Options Act,’ must be struck down as unlawful discrimination in violation of the ADA. Please sign the petition and share it to help fight this discriminatory law.

LEGAL SYNOPSIS

Washington D.C. court house

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in various aspects of life including medical treatment.  The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life function. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability.

Individuals who are facing life-threatening conditions qualify as people with disabilities under the ADA, as those conditions themselves not only cause physical and/or mental impairments, they are impairments that substantially limit major life functions.  The lawsuit seeks to establish that California’s assisted suicide law is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the equal protection and substantive due process clauses in the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. 

No state in America criminalizes someone killing themselves, but they do criminalize someone assisting others to take their own lives, except in states that have legalized assisted suicide. In those places, there is a two-tiered system of law and medicine, wherein a medical professional would be liable under civil and professional liability if they did not provide non-disabled people or people with non-life-threatening disabilities suicide prevention, according to the standard of care, if those people expressed a desire to harm or kill themselves in a medical setting.  If those same professionals actually helped the person kill themselves by providing the means, i.e., a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs, that medical professional would also be criminally liable under manslaughter criminal codes for helping another person die by suicide.

People with life-threatening disabilities, however, are not afforded the same criminal, civil, and professional liability protections as everyone else where assisted suicide is on the books. When they get suicide help on the basis of their disability, namely the condition that precipitates a perceived 6-month or less prognosis, this is treating a subset of a protected class in a different way than everyone else, thereby violating the anti-discrimination law that protects the civil rights and inherent equal human dignity of people with disabilities. 

California’s assisted suicide law, the so-called ‘End of Life Options Act,’ must be struck down. Please sign the petition and share it to help fight this discriminatory law.

LEARN MORE

Our Medical System
Puts Profits
Over People

A young black man with checker pattern shirt reading braille in a library.

Our broken medical system is driven by a profits-before-people structure. People are not getting the care they deserve and choices are often artificially limited by financially motivated players. For example, for-profit insurers and budget-starved bureaucracies mitigate their financial risk by limiting, delaying, or denying care to people with disabilities, some through ableist “quality of life” metrics. Some people die in excruciating pain with too little care, while others pass out of this life in an ICU alone with over-the-top interventions. 94% of hospices in California are owned by publicly traded conglomerates or private equity firms, which companies are lazer-focused on the bottom line, the quality of care be damned. Some are even prowling outside food banks, homeless shelters, and senior centers to drum up business from folks who may nor may not qualify, providing many with a fraudulent 6-month or less prognoses. Some of the best-rated hospitals in California have an unwritten practice of keeping their emergency rooms full so they can send ambulances from poor zip codes to other hospitals while admitting patients into their hospital from wealthier zip codes.  They take Medicaid dollars to fund their programs while rarely, if ever, treating a Medicaid patient.

The pandemic further laid bare and recent studies have confirmed that the lives of people with disabilities are seen as less worth living by society and the house of medicine. Inherently discriminatory Crisis Standards of Care systematically de-prioritized care for people with disabilities and older adults during the pandemic.  People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are iced out of organ transplant lists. There are countless vignettes of people with disabilities experiencing the withholding as well as the non-consensual removal of life-sustaining care. People wait on long lists, sometimes to their deaths, for long term services and supports, durable medical equipment, and home care, if they’re approved for these essentials at all. Recent studies show that many medical professionals view the lives of people with disabilities as having a lesser quality of life, despite the opposite being reported by the people with disabilities themselves. Too often, medical professionals and society on the whole view life with a disability as less worth living, less worthy of care, scarce medical resources, and healthcare dollars – better off dead. 

In the milieu of a fraught system, enter assisted suicide laws, stage left. This public policy is sold as a “compassionate,” last resort option for people with intractable physical suffering at the very end of their lives, but this is far from reality given the many instances that have come to light. The safeguards in these laws are flimsy and unenforced, putting vulnerable people at risk in a world that already devalues their lives.

When a person expresses a desire to harm or kill themselves in California and other states that have legalized assisted suicide, the care received depends heavily on the doctor who receives the request. A patient might be offered suicide prevention, another might be offered suicide assistance. The sole deciding factor: a subjective quality of life that medical professional has placed on the value of this person’s life, whether, given their disability, their life is worth living.  The litmus test to receive a lethal script under the statute is a 6-month or less prognosis, but doctors’ prognoses are often wrong; and that can be with or without access to or the reception of adequate care. People with treatable disabilities like arthritis, anorexia, diabetes, and HIV are receiving prescriptions for lethal drugs in states where assisted suicide is legal.

When a sick or injured person experiencing depression and life-threatening disability has faced barriers to care and an unsympathetic or disability-ignorant medical team who believes them better off dead than alive and when not everyone has equal access to care and they’re left with the untenable ‘choice’ of dying a horrible death, putting their family into debt they cannot pay, or killing themselves – putting killing themselves on the table doesn’t solve any of the actual problems but quickly becomes an attractive option to a demoralized person, and perhaps the only option to which they have equal access.

We should be better than that.  And the law requires more than that, which is why we filed this lawsuit.

In Memorium: Lillibeth Navarro

Image of Lillibeth Navarro, Filipina using a motorized wheelchair, wearing a red long-sleeved dress and black summer sandals. She wears her dark brown hair medium length and straight. She has red lipstick on, some makeup on her Olive skin and purple sunglasses.

“Like  so  many  people  with  disabilities,  Lillibeth  saw  and  experienced  healthcare  disparities  impacting  members  of  BIPOC  and  disability  communities,  disparities  that  belie  the  empty  platitudes  about  ‘safeguards’  in  assisted  suicide  laws.”


"I want to live in a world where people get all the pain relief and palliative care they need without concern of cost. I want to live in a world where it’s ok to be honest about suffering and vulnerability without fear of being institutionalized or euthanized. I want to live in a world where each person can decide what constitutes a good death free of coercion. I want to live in a world that doesn’t see weakness, aging, or disability as fates worse than death."
Photo of Alice Wong, an Asian American disabled woman in a power chair, against a background of bamboo trees. She is wearing a blue cardigan and sitting in a power chair. She is holding a copy of her memoir, Year of the Tiger, a paperback in yellow and red with a fierce tiger on it designed by Madeline Partner. She is wearing a bold red lip color and a trach at her neck.
Alice Wong
Disability Visibility Project
Founder and Director
Please watch the conversation below between Plaintiff Ingrid Tischer and disability activist Alice Wong
Play Video

View Haben’s video
on the litigation!

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Accessible For All?

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*We've done our best to make this site accessible. If you find any issues please contact us at accessibility@endassistedsuicide.org.

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