Tuesday, September 06, 2022

California Assisted Suicide Law Violates Free Speech rights Of Objecting Doctors

In Christian Medical & Dental Association v. Bonta, (CD CA, Sept. 2, 2022), a California federal district court held likely unconstitutional a provision in the California End of Life Option Act which requires doctors who refuse on conscience, moral or ethical grounds to participate in procedures set out by the act to nevertheless document in a patient's record the date of the patient's request for an aid-in-dying drug. This notation serves as one of two required requests by a patient before the patient may obtain the drug. The court rejected the argument that this violates the free exercise rights of medical providers who object on religious grounds, saying in part:

The court recognizes that Plaintiffs have sincerely held religious beliefs, and that compliance with the documentation requirements contained in Section 443.14(e)(2) infringes on the free exercise of their religion. However, under clearly established doctrine in Smith, Lukumi, and Fulton, strict scrutiny does not apply to a neutral and generally applicable law, like the Act here.

The court also rejected equal protection and due process challenges. However, the court did conclude that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their free speech challenges to the requirement, saying in part:

[T]he documentation requirement imposed by the Act “plainly alters the content” of non-participating health care providers’ speech.... The ultimate outcome of this requirement is that non-participating providers are compelled to participate in the Act through this documentation requirement, despite their objections to assisted suicide.

The court issued a preliminary injunction barring state enforcement of the requirement against objecting health care providers. ADF issued a press release announcing the decision.