In the season finale of Drop Dead Diva, which aired on Lifetime Sunday 08/29/2010 at 9 PM EST, attorneys Jane Bingum (Brooke Elliott) and Grayson Kent (Jackson Hurst) face a formidable legal challenge when they are approached by a noted stem cell researcher with an unorthodox request. After revealing to the pair that she has been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, a degenerative nerve disorder, she drops the bombshell that she hopes to undergo a cryopreservation procedure while she is still alive in order to preserve her body before the degenerative effects of the disease take their toll. (For more information on Huntington’s Disease, see here. (For more information on cryonics, see here.) What Bingum and Kent have to figure out is how to convince a judge to issue or court order authorizing the procedure in a state where physician-assisted suicide is against the law.

The lawyers argue that crypreservation does not constitute physician-assisted suicide because the procedure requires only the stopping of their client’s heart, which they contend is not synonymous with causing her death. (For a discussion of legal death, see Barber v. Superior Court. Bingum points out that turtles are able to survive the temporary stopping of their hearts as are heart surgery patients, and insists that cryopreservation involves the same process, but for an extended period of time until reanimation can be performed sometime in the future., 147 Cal. App. 3d 1006 (1983)

Although the judge buys Bingum’s argument and grants the court order, back in the real world, the California Court of Appeal, Second District, reached a different conclusion when considering very similar facts in Donaldson v. Lungren. In that case, when plaintiff Donaldson, who was suffering from a malignant brain tumor, sought to undergo pre-mortem cryopreservation, the Court of Appeal refused to grant injunctive relief authorizing the procedure. The Court rejected the argument that Donaldson had a constitutionally protected right to pre-mortem cryopreservation under the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and expression. (For the text of the First Amendment, see here.. 2 Cal. App. 4th 1614 (1992)

The episode serves as a cautionary tale as it includes an unexpected twist. After the judge issues the court order, the lawyers discover that their client lied about her diagnosis and is not actually sick. The full episode of the season finale of Drop Dead Diva is available for online viewing here.

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