San Diego Judge Stokes Debate Over Right-to-Die Legislation

A bill recently stalled in the state legislature due in large part to opposition from religious organizations

judge-gregory-pollack
NBC 7

In a ruling issued Monday, a San Diego judge dismissed a right-to-die lawsuit while stoking the debate regarding a piece of legislation stalled in the California legislature.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of three patients and a doctor claims California law authorizes the medical practice of aid in dying. San Diego Superior Court Judge Gregory Pollack dismissed the suit Monday by saying the court can not do what the legislature must.

"To the extent that Penal Code 401 unfairly blocks the wishes of certain persons affected by it, rather than this court nixing the law as unconstitutional, the legislature ought to be fixing the law so that the legitimate needs of terminally-ill patients and their physicians are recognized, respected and protected," Judge Pollack wrote.

He added that several states have already enacted statutes legalizing physician-assisted suicide under certain conditions.

The issue garnered national attention when 29-year-old Brittany Maynard moved from California to Oregon to legally end her life following a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer.

Her mother, Deborah Ziegler, lives in Carlsbad and recently told NBC 7 she is committed more than ever to fight for an individual's right to die.

Plaintiffs Christy Lynne Donorovich-O’Donnell of Santa Clarita and Elizabeth Wallner of Sacramento traveled to San Diego for Friday's hearing.

O'Donnell, 47, said she believes she will die from lung, brain, spine, rib, and liver cancer before this issue is resolved in California.

Wallner, 51, has stage IV colon cancer that has metastasized to her liver and lungs. Outside court, she said she was disappointed in the ruling but hoped to see the issue move forward.

The plaintiffs plan to appeal Pollack's ruling.

A bill stalled in an Assembly committee earlier this month, due in large part to opposition from religious organizations that say allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs is assisted suicide and goes against God's will.

The Assembly Health Committee includes multiple Democratic lawmakers from heavily Catholic districts in the Los Angeles area, where the archdiocese actively opposed the legislation.

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