California Lawyer With Terminal Cancer Sues State For Right To Die Peacefully

05/18/2015 06:17 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2015

Three California residents with advanced or terminal diseases, along with a doctor, filed a lawsuit against the state of California last week seeking the right to choose medical aid in dying.

The suit -- filed on behalf of the four plaintiffs by the nonprofit end-of-life advocacy organization Compassion & Choices -- asserts that the California constitution and existing state laws should allow medical professionals to prescribe mentally competent patients with terminal illnesses medications "they can take in their final days to end their dying process painlessly and peacefully, ending unbearable pain and suffering," according to a news release.

The lead plaintiff in the case, and the only one whose illness is terminal, is Christy O'Donnell, a 46-year-old civil rights attorney, former LAPD sergeant and single mother. O'Donnell is a nonsmoker and vegetarian who was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer in June 2014. The cancer had also spread to her brain.

If the law allowed, she would choose to die peacefully in her bed with her 20-year-old daughter by her side, she told People magazine this week. "I am dying within the next months, and I am going to die painfully."

"I am asking the courts for intervention to issue an order so that a doctor can legally prescribe a medication so that I don't have to die painfully, and so that every moment before I die, I don't have to spend afraid and worried about the painful manner in which I'm going to die."

In a video for Compassion & Choices that was recorded in March, she said the reason she became a lawyer was because she loves the law, "and the law is ever-changing."

"Our laws are set up to change with the needs of our society," she said. "This is an absolute need in our society that can’t be ignored anymore."

Aid in dying, also referred to as death with dignity, is currently legal in five states: Washington, Oregon, Montana, New Mexico and Vermont.

An end-of-life options bill modeled on Oregon's law is currently in committee in the California Senate.

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