Donorovich-Odonnell v. HarrisAnnotate this Case
California imposes criminal liability on a person aiding and abetting suicide. Plaintiffs contended Penal Code section 401 was inapplicable to physician aid-in-dying because prescribing a lethal dose of drugs a patient may or may not have filled or take is not direct participation in suicide and, in any event, the legislative history of section 401 showed the Legislature never intended that section 401 apply to a person furnishing the means of suicide. Alternatively, plaintiffs contended section 401 as applied to physician aid-in-dying violated the state constitutional right to autonomy privacy. On October 5, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed the End of Life Option Act, which authorized a terminally ill patient with the capacity to make medical decisions to request a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs, insulated a prescribing physician from criminal liability, and set forth rigorous procedures and safeguards to protect against abuse. The parties agreed Assembly Bill 15 did not render the appeal moot because it would likely not become effective in time to benefit plaintiffs, particularly Christy Lynne Donorovich-Odonnell, given her life expectancy. Opponents to the Bill filed paperwork with the Attorney General to challenge it by referendum on the state ballot in 2016. “We have great compassion for plaintiffs, but we conclude their statutory and constitutional arguments lack merit.” The Court of Appeal agreed with defendants that physician aid-in-dying, and attendant procedures and safeguards against abuse, were matters for the Legislature. The Court affirmed the judgment for defendants entered after their demurrers to the complaint were sustained.