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CA to Pay $300K After Trying to Force Religious Doctors to Assist with Suicides

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The state of California will no longer force doctors to participate in physician-assisted suicide against their religious convictions and professional ethics after settling a lawsuit brought by a Christian physician and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA). 

As part of the settlement, California state officials agreed not to enforce "any criminal or civil punishment, including professional discipline or licensing sanction for a California-licensed physician's refusal or failure to" document a request, refer, or assist a patient in any way with ending his or her life. The state will also pay $300,000 for attorneys' fees and legal costs.

As CBN News reported in February of 2022, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) a religious rights law firm, representing Dr. Leslee Cochrane, M.D., and the CMDA filed their lawsuit, Christian Medical & Dental Associations v. Bonta, against the state. 

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California first legalized physician-assisted suicide in 2015 with the passage of the controversial End of Life Option Act or SB 380. It was signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown (D).  The law allows an adult diagnosed with a terminal disease, who meets certain qualifications, to request aid-in-dying drugs from their attending physician. 

According to court documents, despite the medical ethics consensus that no physician should be forced to participate in physician-assisted suicide even where the practice is allowed, California recently legislated to not only eliminate important safeguards from the End of Life Options Act but also to force conscientious physicians to participate in the process.

In an emailed statement to CBN News in February of 2022, California Attorney General Rob Bonta's press office said, "SB 380 reduced the waiting period for terminally ill individuals who have chosen to end their life via medication prescribed by participating health care providers. The Attorney General will continue to enforce and defend the law."

Then last September, a federal district court ruled that the law likely violated the First Amendment rights of religious medical professionals and halted enforcement of the law while the lawsuit proceeded.

"(N)on-participating providers are compelled to participate in the (End of Life Option) Act through this documentation requirement, despite their objections to assisted suicide," U.S. District Judge Fernando Aenlle-Rocha of Los Angeles wrote in his ruling granting the CMDA a preliminary injunction. 

Rather than appealing Aenlle-Rocha's ruling, state officials agreed not to enforce the recording and referral requirements against objecting physicians, and also agreed to pay the physicians' group $300,000 for attorneys' fees and legal costs, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

"Our clients seek to live out their faith in their medical practice, and that includes valuing every human life entrusted to their care. Participating in physician-assisted suicide very clearly would violate their consciences," said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. "This is a significant victory for religious and conscientious physicians in California. The government can't force any health care professional to act against his faith or medical ethics."

As part of the settlement, the parties agreed to a stipulated judgment that was entered last week by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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CMDA is a national association of conscientious Christian healthcare professionals whose personal religious convictions and professional ethics oppose the practice of assisted suicide. Dr. Cochrane, a member of CMDA, is a California-licensed physician who joined the lawsuit.

Catherine Short of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, one of more than 3,500 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case.

Last month, ADF attorneys favorably settled a similar federal lawsuit in New Mexico on behalf of CMDA and a Christian doctor in Lacy v. Torrez.

Watch the ADF video "How Assisted Suicide Laws Ignore Medical Ethics and American Freedom below: 

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of