California judge indicates he will dismiss assisted suicide lawsuit

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A San Diego judge said on Friday he would likely dismiss a lawsuit brought by three terminally ill patients seeking a right to assisted suicide, after a bill that would have allowed the practice stalled in the California legislature.

The judge is presiding in a case brought in May by lawyers for three terminally ill California residents with the support of Compassion and Choices, a group that fights for legislation to allow assisted suicide.

The legal challenge represented one front in an effort by some terminally ill patients and their supporters to win a right to assisted suicide in the nation's most populous state.

In the legislature, a bill that would legalize the practice was withdrawn earlier this month from an Assembly committee after running into stiff opposition.

The lawsuit argues that, while state law makes it a felony to advise or aid another person to commit suicide, it is common practice for terminally ill patients to request that food, water and medical interventions be withheld while pain medications are given in order to hasten death.

In presenting a case that assisted suicide is similar, the plaintiffs asked the judge to rule that the state must let willing doctors help terminally ill patients end their lives, and to find that such doctors should not face prosecution.

But San Diego County Superior Court Judge Gregory Pollack indicated at a hearing on Friday that he would dismiss the lawsuit, a court clerk said. The judge acknowledged that his decision will likely be appealed when he hands down his final ruling.

Last year, Compassion and Choices championed Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with terminal cancer who moved to Oregon where she used a prescription drug to end her own life.

Oregon, Washington state, Montana and Vermont allow some form of physician-assisted suicide.

The Catholic Church has been vocal in opposing assisted suicide, arguing it is inhumane and undignified.

Lawyers from the California Attorney General's Office, and the district attorneys of San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento counties opposed the lawsuit.

In addition to the three terminally ill patients, a fourth plaintiff is Dr. Lynette Cederquist, an internal medicine specialist at the University of California-San Diego. She wants to aid the three in dying on their terms.

(Reporting by Marty Graham; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric Beech)