An appeals court has let stand a lower court ruling overturning a California law that allows physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to the terminally ill.

California's Fourth District Court of Appeals on Wednesday refused to stay last week's decision by the Riverside County Superior Court, which ruled that state lawmakers should not have passed the law during a special session on health care funding. However, the constitutionality of the law itself — passed nearly three years ago — was not challenged.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra had sought to block the earlier ruling in order to allow terminally ill people to access life-ending drugs while the issue works its way through the courts.

Rejecting the superior court's rationale for tossing out the law, Becerra argued that the health care funding session was "broadly germane" to the assisted suicide measure and therefore its passage was constitutional, according to The Sacramento Bee.

California is one of seven states, along with the District of Columbia, that has enacted legal protections for assisted suicide, covering about one-fifth of the U.S. population.

California's 2015 law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to patients with six months or less to live.

According to Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group for assisted suicide, in the first year after the law went into effect, more than 500 adults in California received the drugs.

Opponents of the law, such as the Life Legal Defense Foundation, have argued that it could lead to coercion and abuse of terminally ill patients.

"You have people at likely the most vulnerable time of their lives," Alexandra Snyder, the group's executive director, tells member station KQED.

Those people are "potentially facing large medical expenses and that puts them in a position of being vulnerable to pressure not just from families but their own pressure that maybe this is a cheaper, less burdensome way to go," she says.

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