‘Sufficient Victory’ for CA Doctors’ Religious Freedom

‘Sufficient Victory’ for CA Doctors’ Religious Freedom

Doctors in the state of California are no longer required to take part in physician-assisted suicide against their religious convictions or professional ethics. 

A lawsuit filed in February 2022 was settled in favor of a Christian physician and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA) over the state, which will pay $300,000 in legal expenses and attorney fees. 

Since 2015, physician-assisted suicide has been legal in California through the End of Life Option Act or SB 380, which gives terminally ill adults who meet specific qualifications the right to receive medication to end their life.

Dr. Leslee Cochrane, a CMDA member as well as one of the plaintiffs, serves as a full-time hospice physician in California and has seen how terminally ill patients facing severe pain can have “very dramatic changes in disposition once their pain is controlled,” as stated in a court document. He believes their exhausted condition or questionable mental capacity can cause them to be vulnerable to the manipulation of family members instead of their personal desires. In addition, physician-assisted suicide contradicts his religious beliefs and professional ethics. 

The document also stated, “Over 90% of CMDA members would rather stop practicing medicine than be forced to participate in assisted suicide or other practices in violation of their consciences.” According to its website, CMDA’s vision is “to bring the hope and healing of Christ to the world through healthcare professionals.”

Last September, a federal district court claimed SB 380 likely contradicted religious medical professionals’ First Amendment rights and ordered the ruling should not be enforced for the remainder of the lawsuit.

The final settlement means the defendants cannot impose any punishment on California-licensed physicians, like Cochrane, who refuse or fail to document, assist or refer a patient for medical aid-in-dying. 

“Our clients seek to live out their faith in their medical practice, and that includes valuing every human life entrusted to their care,” said Kevin Theriot, Senior Counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented Cochrane and the CMDA. “Participating in physician-assisted suicide very clearly would violate their consciences. 

“This is a significant victory for religious and conscientious physicians in California,” Theriot continued. “The government can’t force any health care professional to act against his faith or medical ethics.”

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