California Christian Doctors Group Sues State Over Compulsory Participation In Assisted Suicide

A group of California Christian doctors is suing the state government over a recently-passed bill taking away a physician’s right to refuse to participate in assisted suicides and euthanasia.

The public interest law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) brought the lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Leslee Cochrane and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA) against the California Medical Board, the Director of the Department of Mental Health Tomas Aragon and California Attorney General Rob Bonta. The law being challenged declares a physician licensed by the state may not refuse to be involved in an assisted suicide procedure.

The ADF said that the law removes safeguards from the California End of Life Options Act and forces conscientious doctors to participate against their will. The End of Life Options Act was enacted in 2015 and allowed doctors to opt out of the suicide procedures it authorized. It also protected physicians from being liable for “refusing to inform” patients about their rights under the statute or for refusing to provide a referral to another doctor for assisted suicide.

The new bill changed the law and took effect on Jan. 1. The bill requires a doctor who is unwilling or unable to participate in suicide must inform the patient of their decision and transfer their relevant medical records on request. The lawsuit alleges that limited use of the word “participation” in the bill requires all doctors to engage in steps required by the statute to advance the suicide procedure and unreasonably narrows the scope of what counts as “participation.”

The CMDA includes about 16,000 members nationwide. The lawsuit alleges that more than 90 percent of its members would instead stop practicing medicine than be forced to engage in practices that violate their consciences, including assisted suicide.

The lawsuit argues that the new bill imposes a “substantial burden” on doctors in California who are religiously motivated to abstain from assisted suicide. It argues that the bill forces doctors to choose between their livelihoods and “obeying government commands” that violate their faith.

ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle said the lawsuit is intended to let Christian doctors “live out their faith in their medical practice.” She added that no health care professionals should be forced to act against their medical ethics or religious beliefs.

The state defendants have not yet replied to the lawsuit and hearings have not been scheduled.