California cancer patient sues for right to doctor-assisted death

By Dan Whitcomb LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A 53-year-old California woman suffering from leukemia sued the state's attorney general and San Francisco's top prosecutor on Wednesday seeking the right for physicians to aid the terminally ill in taking their own lives. The lawsuit asks San Francisco Superior Court to "clarify" that a California law making it illegal to aid, advise or encourage someone to commit suicide does not apply to doctors assisting a dying, mentally competent patient. "I am suing the State of California to remove the legal barrier between my doctor and myself to help me achieve a peaceful and dignified death, at the time and place of my choosing," lead plaintiff Christine White said in a written statement released with the lawsuit. White has battled aggressive cancer for seven years, first non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and then leukemia, which is currently in remission. The lawsuit was filed on her behalf by attorneys for the Disability Rights Legal Center. Also named as plaintiffs were five San Francisco doctors who support physician-assisted suicide. "If and when the leukemia returns, I want to have the option to ask my doctor to aid me in my dying," she said. "I don't want to die in a hospital, I've seen too many of my friends in the cancer patients' community die that way." The lawsuit comes four months after Brittany Maynard, suffering from a gliobastoma brain tumor, moved from San Francisco to Oregon to take advantage of that state's Death With Dignity Act, which allows terminally ill residents to end their lives with the assistance of a physician. Maynard, 29, took her own life in early November. Two California state senators last month introduced legislation supported by Maynard's family that would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medications to terminally ill patients, but the bill's chances for passage are uncertain. "I do not want to have to leave my husband, my family and my friends and move to Oregon, where terminal patients have some measure of peace of mind, dignity and control over their dying," White said in her statement. A spokesman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination to replace retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, had no immediate comment on the lawsuit. Representatives for San Francisco County District Attorney George Gascon could not be reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon. (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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