Debbie Ziegler, the mother of Brittany Maynard, appeared in support of proposed legislation allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Jan. 21, 2015.
Photo by Rich Pedroncelli/AP

California leukemia patient sues state for right to die


A California leukemia patient and five physicians filed a lawsuit this week challenging the state’s ban on assisted suicide, seeking to allow doctors the right to help terminally-ill patients end their lives.

Christie White, the 53-year-old cancer patient from San Francisco, sued the state’s attorney general and San Francisco’s top prosecutor on Wednesday. She is seeking the right for physicians to prescribe medication that leads to death for a terminally-ill individual. She says the act should be considered a “peaceful death,” instead of an assisted suicide, according to The Associated Press.

California law deems it a felony for anyone who deliberately aids, advises, or encourages another person to commit suicide.

Two of the doctors who joined in the lawsuit are also cancer patients. “I am here as a physician, as a patient with cancer, but primarily as a human person who knows in my heart that such a choice is of the utmost importance for all of us,” Dr. Dan Swangard, a plaintiff, said Wednesday at a news conference about the case.

RELATED: Death with Dignity advocate Brittany Maynard dies in Oregon

The plaintiffs cite the case of Brittany Maynard, who recently renewed the debate on this law in California. Maynard, then 29, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last April. She moved from her home state of California to Oregon to take part in the state’s Death with Dignity law, which allows terminally ill patients to choose when and where they want to die. She decided to end her life on Nov. 1 inside her home in Portland, Oregon, surrounded by close friends and family.

“I’m not killing myself. Cancer is killing me. I am choosing to go in a way that is less suffering and less pain,” Maynard told NBC News during a phone interview on Oct. 9.

California voters rejected a change to the law in 1992. Then, in 2005 and 2007, narrower bills that would have allowed terminally-ill patients to obtain prescriptions for lethal drug doses failed in the Legislature, according to The Los Angeles Times.

In Connecticut, the state’s highest court ruled last month that a 17-year-old girl unwilling to continue receiving care for her cancer must continue chemotherapy. The court’s chief justice decided the teenager, identified in court documents only as “Cassandra C.,” is not mature under any standard to demand she doesn’t want to receive life-saving medical treatment.

Five states — Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — allow patients to seek medical help to die.

The Canadian Supreme Court last week overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide, signaling a western government’s embrace of changes to the law.

Brittany Maynard, California and Health Care

California leukemia patient sues state for right to die