SAN DIEGO — A California judge has rejected a request by physicians to immediately suspend a new state law allowing terminally ill people to end their lives.
Judge Daniel A. Ottolia of Riverside County Superior Court ruled on Friday that the law would remain in effect for now. But he agreed to allow the physicians to pursue their lawsuit claiming that the law lacks safeguards against abuse.
The law, which took effect on June 9, allows terminally ill adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending medication if a doctor has determined they have no more than six months to live.
Supporters of the law have argued that terminally ill people could face prolonged, painful deaths if it is suspended.
Elizabeth Wallner, a Sacramento resident with Stage 4 colon cancer who attended the hearing, said she had cried with relief when the judge denied the motion to suspend the law.
“I want to have the ability to control the end of life and protect my child from watching me be tortured to death,” she said. “It just gave me an immeasurable sense of peace.”
California is one of five states where terminally ill people may legally receive assistance to end their lives. Oregon became the first to provide the option in 1997.
The California law is being challenged by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, the American Academy of Medical Ethics and several physicians.
Opponents of the law say that hastening death is morally wrong, that the law puts all kinds of patients at risk of loved ones’ coercing them to end their lives, and that it could become a way out for people who are not insured or who fear high medical bills.
Stephen G. Larson, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said his clients wanted the law declared unconstitutional. Determining when someone has six months or less to live is arbitrary and opens the door for abuse, he said, and doctors are not held accountable after they prescribe the life-ending drugs.
“There are plenty of cases of elderly people suffering and people just want them gone,” Mr. Larson said. “This makes it too easy.”
The state attorney general’s office countered that medical professionals could refuse to prescribe and dispense the drugs. The law also specifies that the terminally ill people must be able to administer the drugs themselves.