Cancer patients, doctors sue to allow physician-assisted death for terminally ill

A group of cancer patients and physicians filed a lawsuit Wednesday to clarify the ability of mentally competent, terminally ill patients in California to obtain prescription drugs from their physician to hasten their death if they find their suffering unbearable.

The lawsuit asks the San Francisco County Superior Court to rule that physicians who provide fatal doses of medication to be taken by such a patient should not be subject to criminal prosecution under state law.

California law makes it a crime to assist another in committing suicide, but the lawsuit argues that physician-assisted death for dying patients is not suicide, according to Kathryn Tucker, executive director of the Disability Rights Legal Center and a co-counsel in the case.


The lawsuit argues that the Legislature has not specifically prohibited assisted death and if it did, it would impinge on the liberties of patients.

“It is time for California to clarify that suffering, dying patients have the right to choose a peaceful death through aid in dying,” Tucker said. “Patients trapped in a dying process they find unbearable should be able to turn to their physicians and ask for medication they could consume to bring about a peaceful death.”

The lawsuit comes shortly after state lawmakers proposed legislation to allow doctors to aid in hastening the death of dying patients.

Christie White, a 53-year-old San Francisco resident in partial remission from cancer, said she has undergone chemotherapy and is battling to keep her body from rejecting transplanted bone marrow.

“But I’m not so blind as to ignore the very real possibility that my leukemia may return,” White said during a San Francisco news conference. “I do in fact expect that it will find its way to sneak back into my life, and for me at that point I will have very limited choices. I am asking the state of California to remove the legal barrier between my doctor and myself to help me achieve a peaceful and dignified death at the place and time of my choosing.”

Those joining the lawsuit include retired physician Robert Liner, who is in remission from stage four lymphoma.

“What’s wanted is a promise that for our own life’s final scene, we get to say when enough is enough,” Liner, 70, said at the news conference.