New York Lawmakers Propose Assisted Suicide Bill

NY Capitol Credit Mortadello
Photo Credit: Mortadello

ALBANY, N.Y. — Lawmakers in New York have proposed a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to request from their doctors a lethal prescription to hasten their death.

The Medical Aid in Dying Act was introduced during a press conference on May 10 in the state’s capital. It is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Amy Paulin and is based on Oregon’s “Death With Dignity Act,” under which Brittany Maynard ended her life in 2014.

“If I am terminally ill, I should be able to choose to end my life calmly, peacefully and in a dignified way, at a time and in a setting I choose where I am surrounded by those I love,” Paulin said in a statement. “That is what my bill is about.”

“A patient may make a written request for and consent to self-administer medication for the purpose of ending his or her life in accordance with this article if the patient: (a) has been determined by the attending physician to have a terminal illness and which has been medically confirmed by a consulting physician; and (b) voluntarily expresses the request for medication,” the bill, A10059, reads.

Those who spoke in favor of the proposal included Dr. Bill Levering of the First Reformed Church of Schenectady.

“I’m pleased to be able to be here today to represent the perspective of clergy who work with folks who are facing pain and fear in relation to their death,” he said. “We care about their dignity. We care about the holiness of their life. We care about preserving the thing that makes us human: our ability to decide about our lives.”

“We select our careers, our hometowns, and our places of worship. We make decisions about our way of life every day. Until the end. Then, someone else gets to decide? This is not the way of a caring people,” Levering asserted.

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But others have expressed concern, stating that death is not the proper response to suffering.

“Physician-assisted suicide represents a complete abdication of our moral responsibility to persons who are suffering from terminal illnesses. Rather than caring for such persons with the utmost sensitivity and compassion, the sponsors of these bills would have us simply expedite their demise. The State of New York must do better,” said the organization New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms in an email released on Sunday.

Members of the group Not Dead Yet in Rochester attended the press conference in bright pink shirts and holding signs such as “World’s cheapest health care,” featuring a graphic representative of a bottle of lethal pills. Not Dead Yet sent a letter to lawmakers on Friday explaining why it opposes the measure.

“Among the top five reasons given [for assisted suicide] are feelings of being a ‘burden on others’ (41%) or feeling a ‘loss of autonomy’ (92%) or ‘loss of dignity’ (78%). These are not about pain from a terminal disease, but are psychological and social issues that cry out for meaningful supports and genuine care,” the correspondence reads, authored by President Diane Coleman.

“Yet the assisted suicide law does not even require disclosures about consumer controlled home care options to address feelings of loss of autonomy or feelings of being a burden on family, much less require that those services be provided,” she said.

Others have also noted that  “[u]nder the law, doctors who ‘aid-in-dying’ are required to state untruthfully on the death certificate that their patient’s cause of death was their underlying illness, and not the lethal dose of drugs they prescribed that killed them.”

A vote is expected on the matter in the Assembly Health Committee on Monday.

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