New York Assisted Suicide Bill Narrowly Advanced by Assembly Committee

Hospital-compressedALBANY, N.Y. — An Assembly Committee in New York has approved the advancement of a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to request from their doctors a lethal prescription to hasten their death.

As previously reported, 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.

The legislation permits those diagnosed with a terminal disease, which has been confirmed by two physicians, to end their lives with the mortal medicine.

“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.

The proposal was debated in the Assembly Health Committee on Monday and narrowly passed 14-11.

“This bill is about patient autonomy and dignity,” Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, a co-sponsor of the Act, said in a statement. “It meets all the moral and legal standards we look to in reviewing legislation in the Health Committee. The law already allows adults with capacity to refuse life-saving treatment. Similarly, they should have the right to end their suffering through medication if that is their own choosing.”

The group Compassion and Choices praised the outcome of the vote.

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“Lawmakers listened to their constituents in taking this historic step forward for expanding end-of-life options in New York State,” said New York State Campaign Director Corinne Carey. “The speed with which the Medical Aid in Dying Act made it through the Assembly health committee demonstrates strong momentum for making this option available to terminally ill New Yorkers.”

But others expressed concern that the bill was moved so quickly through the legislature—and without public debate.

J.J. Hanson, a survivor of terminal brain cancer, who now serves as the president of the Patients’ Rights Action Fund, said that the vote sends a message to the sick that “the healthcare system gives them no choice but to kill themselves.” Hanson had been told by doctors that he had four months to live, but eventually overcame glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer.

“Without allowing adequate debate or public testimony, the supporters of A.10059 have served an injustice to the citizens of New York State and passed assisted suicide by a narrow margin. This action is not just an insult to good government, A.10059 is a danger to patients, persons with disabilities, and New York’s most vulnerable population,” he stated.

“Thankfully, many members of the Health Committee have demonstrated their grave concern for vulnerable New Yorkers who may be harmed by this dangerous public policy, or worse yet, whose autonomy will be compromised and who will feel as though the healthcare system gives them no choice but to kill themselves, Hanson said.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms said that financial considerations could also wrongfully drive residents to suicide.

“By hastily rubber-stamping this deeply problematic proposal, the Committee has taken a step toward a future in which the lives of terminally-ill persons are treated as expendable, and in which insurance companies will be at liberty to make cost-saving coverage decisions that steer vulnerable individuals toward physician-assisted death,” said Executive Director Jason McGuire.

The Act now moves to the full Assembly for consideration.

“Though we are disappointed in the results of today’s vote, NYCF remains thankful that the notion of assisted suicide will die this session,” McGuire said. “As the unusually close committee votes confirms, the votes are just not there to advance this legislation any further. It looks like the bill will remain on life support for the remainder of the legislative session, but the prognosis for its ultimate defeat is good.”

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