This month we kicked off our intensified 2020 campaign with one clear and powerful message: Pass the New York Medical Aid in Dying Act NOW!
Compassion & Choices national staff and New York-based volunteers spent three days at New York’s Legislative Office Building and Capitol, January 21–23, exhibiting an educational display on medical aid in dying for legislators and visitors.
The display featured profiles of local and national leaders in the end-of-life care movement, including Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu and other faith leaders; nationally recognizable advocates, and most importantly, the stories of New Yorkers — those who are terminally ill and seeking medical aid in dying and those who died while urging the Legislature to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act since its introduction in 2015. A copy of all the materials featured on the educational display can be seen here.
Among the nationally recognized advocates featured in the display are Brittany Maynard and Dan Diaz. Brittany and Dan moved from California to Oregon in 2014 so that Brittany could utilize its medical aid-in-dying law to peacefully end her suffering from terminal brain cancer because California did not yet have a similar law. Dan Diaz was among dozens of advocates and supporters who rallied at a Capitol press conference on the final day of the display exhibition urging legislators to pass the New York Medical Aid in Dying Act during the 2020 session.
“I made a promise to Brittany just before she died that I would carry on her legacy by advocating for medical aid-in-dying laws nationwide, so no terminally ill person has to suffer needlessly at life’s inevitable end,” said Diaz. “When I personally explain to New York lawmakers and residents how this option enabled Brittany to peacefully avoid the brutal symptoms brain cancer was inflicting on her and die gently in her sleep, it opens their eyes and hearts to the need for this compassionate law.”
He also explained why using the word “suicide” in reference to medical aid in dying is erroneous. Individuals struggling with suicide are making a decision on whether to live or die, while those seeking medical aid in dying know they will die and are deciding whether and how much they may suffer while dying.
“The time has come for the Legislature to send Governor Andrew Cuomo the bill he requested,” said Compassion & Choices President and CEO Kim Callinan, referencing public statements of support for medical aid in dying made last year by the governor. “Terminally ill New Yorkers should have the same peace of mind as their neighbors in Vermont and New Jersey.”
At the press conference, Compassion & Choices unveiled the first of “50 reasons to pass the New York Medical Aid in Dying Act” from award-winning filmmaker Barbara Hammer’s widow, Florrie Burke. Hammer battled for 12 years with ovarian cancer and spent her final weeks advocating for medical aid in dying in New York.
“It was traumatic for me to helplessly watch the love of my life die in prolonged distress because there was nothing I could do to relieve her suffering, despite the best hospice care available. In her final months, Barbara asked the Legislature to pass medical aid in dying. They didn’t, and Barbara suffered at the end,” Burke said.
Barbara Hammer is featured in a new video that also includes the stories of four more terminally ill New Yorkers who died advocating for this compassionate legislation since it was first introduced in 2015: Miguel Carrasquillo, Youssef Cohen, Jay Kallio and Bernadette Hoppe. You can watch that video and read the words of those deceased advocates here.
Another of the “50 reasons” will be sent directly to legislators on each of the remaining days of New York’s 2020 legislative session, or until New York becomes the 11th jurisdiction to authorize medical aid in dying. Each of these stories will also be featured on Compassion & Choices New York’s Facebook page and at CompassionAndChoices.org/NewYork.
Our intensified campaign also includes a billboard placed right off the New York State Thruway near the state capitol complex in Albany, pictured below.
As lawmakers prepare to return to Albany in January for the 2020 legislative session, our team of advocates has been busy on the ground throughout the state preparing to greet them with a simple demand: Pass New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act in 2020.
The bill would make New York the 10th state to adopt compassionate legislation expanding end-of-life options to allow a terminally ill, mentally capable adult with a prognosis of six months or less to live to request from their doctor a prescription for medication they can decide to self-ingest to die peacefully in their sleep.
The state legislature has had four full years to consider the bill, and the evidence is in: medical aid in dying is a trusted and time-tested option now available to more than 20% of Americans. Study after study over the past two decades has shown what the Journal of Medical Ethics report about Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act said in 2007, nearly 10 years after that state’s law took effect. In it, they conclude that “Rates of assisted dying in Oregon … showed no evidence of heightened risk for the elderly, women, the uninsured … people with low educational status, the poor, the physically disabled or chronically ill, minors, people with psychiatric illnesses including depression, or racial or ethnic minorities[.]”
The option is used by a small number of people as intended: to allow those who are dying to avoid needless suffering at the end of their lives, but it ends up improving end-of-life care for everyone, even those who don’t ask for medical aid in dying, as it spurs open and honest conversations between patients and providers about all end-of-life options.
Passing the Medical Aid in Dying Act would give New Yorkers what the majority of them want: expanded end-of-life care options; vesting the dying person with the sole authority to ask for it when nothing else provides relief; and leaving this deeply personal decision to the dying person, their family, and their doctor.
Nowhere was the case for passing this bill more clear than in a debate held by the New York State Bar Association on November 8 in Albany. Dr. Seth Morgan, a board-certified fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and a disability rights advocate and person living with a disability himself joined senior state campaign director Corinne Carey at the New York State Bar Association’s Fall Health Law meeting in Albany on Friday, November 8. Seth and Corinne faced Kathryn Carroll from the Center for Disability Rights & Dennis Vacco, former NY Attorney General and a former US Attorney for the Western District. (You may remember that as attorney general, Vacco argued the landmark case about medical aid in dying, Vacco v. Quill, before the United States Supreme Court. He successfully defended the state’s ban on the practice, winning the case by a 9–0 vote.)
No new arguments were advanced by the opposition during this debate; just the same tired, long-refuted arguments that have been made for more than a quarter of a century while the evidence in favor of authorizing the option of medical aid in dying as and end-of-life care option continues to mount.
So why didn’t lawmakers take up and pass this bill in 2019, like their neighbors in New Jersey did? And those in Maine just a month later?
What we heard from them again and again was that they weren’t hearing from enough of their constituents. With so many pressing issues, the need for expanded end-of-life options just did not rise above the din of advocates’ voices in Albany.
We vowed to change that, and got straight to work in June.
A team of staff and volunteers kicked the summer off with a presence at New York City World Pride and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots on Sunday, June 30. We greeted thousands of visitors by distributing literature about New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act and debuted our new tool, the ability to text the word DIGNITY to 40649 in order to sign our petition online.
We took those same efforts on the road for the rest of the summer and fall, staffing tables and collecting petition signatures at local events across the state. We were at the Elmwood Avenue Arts Festival in Buffalo on August 24 and 25; the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn, New York on September 2; Yonkers RiverFest in the Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ district on September 14; a “Golden Gathering” event held by Senator Sue Serino and the Dutchess County Office of the Aging on September 29; Senator Kevin Thomas’s Senior Expo in Garden City, Long Island on October 2; the StateWide Senior Action Council’s annual conference on October 16; and the Hamburg Farmers Market just outside Buffalo on Saturday, October 25 and 26th.
Volunteers were hard at work on a number of projects this summer and fall. A dozen committed volunteers have been participating in a massive phonebanking effort, calling thousands of supporters across the state in key legislative districts to encourage them to make a single, direct phone call to lawmakers who are still on the fence. These phone calls can make all the difference, demonstrating strong constituent support for New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act.
Likewise, committed supporters attended in-district meetings with their state representatives, sharing personal stories about why New Yorkers need the option of medical aid in dying, and what happens to families when loved ones suffer needlessly at the end of life. And volunteers hosted house parties with friends, family, and neighbors to talk about the bill and how to get active.
If you are interested in getting involved in any of these activities — if you have just 5 minutes to spare, or many-hours more, please get in touch with our campaign manager, Amanda Cavanaugh by clicking this link: https://www.compassionandchoices.org/survey/volunteer/.
Advocates were also raising their voices in the media. NYC-based supporters Florrie Burke (the late Barbara Hammer’s partner) and Ida Schmertz both had pieces published about New Jersey’s law and the failure of the New York State legislature to act in the NY Daily News on August 1 and the Albany Times Union on August 2 respectively.
Iconic radio host and brother of famed author Frank McCourt, Malachy McCourt devoted a half an hour of his radio show “New York, We and Thee” on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City to medical aid in dying. New York campaign director Corinne Carey and Florrie Burke, the late-Barbara Hammer’s partner, were the guests on the show.
Dr. Robert Klitzman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Mailman School of Public Health and the academic director of the Master of Science in Bioethics program at Columbia School of Professional Studies, wrote about his father’s death in a piece titled: “My Father’s Final Lesson For Me” in Columbia News, a publication for Columbia University students, staff, and alumni. Once a skeptic, Dr. Klitzman says that “seeing and understanding these issues from [his dying father’s] perspective changed” him. Klitzman, writes: “I will always miss my father and remain grateful to him for many lessons, including this one. Because he lived in New York, he did not have the choice of aid in dying. If he had, I don’t know if he would have taken it. I believe that he should have had the right to at least make an informed decision for himself and not to have it made by others who oppose this option for everyone.”
The Middletown Record Online, a newspaper serving the Hudson Valley, printed an editorial in favor of the New York legislature adopting a medical aid in dying law. The paper noted that it wouldn’t likely happen in 2020 — but we’re committed to proving them wrong.
The Buffalo News published an opinion piece by campaign director Corinne Carey on Friday, November 22: “Medical Aid in Dying will reduce suffering.” The piece was written as a “closing argument” to the November 8 New York State Bar Association debate featuring former state attorney general Dennis Vacco in Albany.
We’ve also been working with our allies to thank Governor Cuomo for his support, and to encourage him to make medical aid in dying a priority in 2020. The governor reiterated his support — and went a step further saying that New Jersey’s law was a sensible one and that we should have one in New York — during a radio interview on August 5. We posted a sound clip of the radio segment on Facebook and shared it with our supporters and legislative champions.
Our partners at the New York State Academy of Family Physicians sent a letter to Governor Cuomo on October 1 asking the Governor to make the Medical Aid in Dying Act a priority for him in 2020; the New York State League of Women Voters followed with a letter of their own on October 3; and Latinos for Healthcare Equity sent their own letter to the Governor urging the same on November 7.
Compassion & Choices traveled to Puerto Rico for the SOMOS conference held by the New York State Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force from November 6 through the 10th, interacting with the Governor and more than a dozen lawmakers to talk about the importance of addressing end-of-life options when the legislature returns in January.
We have an exciting slate of high-profile activities on deck beginning in January 2020. To do this, we’ve expanded our team by hiring Seth Pollack, a New York City-based organizer; and bringing on Kivvit, the public affairs and communications firm we worked with to pass New Jersey’s law. Supporters will see the most aggressive campaign in New York yet featuring the faces and voices of New York supporters asking the legislature to take action.
If you’re a social media-type and don’t yet follow our campaign on Twitter and Facebook, you should hop on and do that today. If you haven’t yet signed the petition in support of New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act, which enables you to get periodic action alerts and updates about our campaign, you should do that too by clicking this link: Sign the Petition!
And, if you haven’t yet shared with your own state representatives your reasons for supporting New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act, please do that today by clicking this link: Send a note to Albany. Your lawmakers need to hear it directly from you! (You can do this even if you’ve done it before; your state lawmakers need to hear from you again and again).
Join our campaign.
Let’s make New York the 10th state to authorize medical aid in dying.
For more information about how to help, to schedule a presentation in your community, or if you want to learn about any of our campaign activities, you can always email [email protected].
Our movement to expand end-of-life option is winning across the country, and we know that it is a matter of when, not if, New York will join the growing number of states that authorize medical aid in dying. Within two months to the day of one another, both New Jersey (April 12) and Maine (June 12) adopted laws that allow for this compassionate end-of-life care option. Maine is now the 10th jurisdiction to allow medical aid in dying in 25 years and 6th to do it in the last five years (New Jersey in 2019, Hawai’i in 2018, Washington, D.C. in 2017, Colorado in 2016, California in 2015, Vermont in 2013, Montana in 2009, Washington in 2008, and Oregon in 1994). Nearly 70 million Americans live in these jurisdictions, more than one-fifth (22%) of the nation’s population.
Like the new Maine and New Jersey laws, New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act would allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to have the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their suffering becomes unbearable and die peacefully in their sleep.
As we move closer to our goal of expanding end-of-life care options for all Americans, our opponents escalate their attempts to roll back our progress. Dedicated staff and volunteers have successfully thwarted those attempts at every turn.
This spring, Compassion & Choices soundly defeated Montana’s noxious “Physician Imprisonment Act” (HB 284) that would have subjected physicians to a prison sentence for providing care to those seeking the court-authorized medical aid in dying option in that state. And we continue to fight in the courts to preserve our victory in California. As we get closer to victory in New York, we should expect to see opponents ramping up their rhetoric and spreading misinformation about the legislation. Compassion & Choices will bring additional resources to bear to counter opposing voices in New York, but we’ll need to build our base of support and step up our efforts. To find out how you can help, click here.
Bringing the Momentum to New York
We kicked off our 2019 campaign with a January press conference where we stood alongside the New York State Academy of Family Physicians calling on the legislature to pass New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act. The family doctors group, which has taken a position in favor of the Act, announced the release of a WebMD/Medscape survey showing that New York doctors support medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option by a 30 point margin (56% vs. 26%).
Each Tuesday the legislature was in Albany, supporters walked the halls of the capitol talking about the bill and reminding lawmakers that New York State voters support medical aid in dying as an end-of-life care option by more than a 2-1 margin (63% vs. 29%), according to a 2018 Quinnipiac University Poll. In fact, majority support for medical aid in dying includes virtually every demographic group the survey measured, including party affiliation, race, religion, sex, region, education level, and age group.
Supporters in Albany for our weekly Tuesday Lobby Day on April 9 were delighted when they learned that Governor Andrew Cuomo had just made his first public statement about medical aid in dying, strongly endorsing it in a radio interview. He said:
“Pass the bill … the older we get and the better medicine gets, the more we’ve seen people suffer for too, too long … it’s a situation we have to address definitely.”
The Governor’s comments came in response to questions from WAMC radio host Alan Chartock, who had interviewed New York campaign director Corinne Carey earlier in the day. Click here to hear that radio interview.
More than 130 supporters traveled from all parts of New York State for our Spring Lobby Day on May 14. We stood with our partners from the New York Civil Liberties Union, SAGE – NYC, End of Life Choices New York, Death with Dignity Albany and Death with Dignity National Center to call on lawmakers to act. Groups of supporters met with more than 45 lawmakers that day, dispelling myths about medical aid in dying and building support for the bill.
Our campaign lost two powerful advocates in Spring 2019, and Corinne called on lawmakers to pass the bill in their honor before adjourning. “The recent deaths of medical aid-in-dying supporters like New York City filmmaker Barbara Hammer and Buffalo lawyer Bernadette Hoppe, who suffered needlessly because they did not have this option, vividly demonstrate there is no more urgent issue for terminally ill New Yorkers than passing this bill,” she said. “In honor of their memory, and since it is a certainty that many of our fellow New Yorkers will be facing similarly painful, terrifying end-of-life struggles, the Legislature should not end its session . . . without passing the Medical Aid in Dying Act.”
Where we Stand
While the New York campaign made great strides in 2019 — we persuaded 50 lawmakers added their names as co-sponsors of the Medical Aid in Dying Act, we secured the votes needed to pass the bill through the Senate Health Committee, and we won the support of both Governor Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — lawmakers will likely leave Albany on June 19, ending the 2019 legislative session without taking up the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
Because New York’s legislature operates on a 2-year cycle, the bill will remain pending through 2020. Our campaign will work hard to make a strong case for lawmakers to take up and pass the bill when they return to Albany in January 2020.
A Summer of Action
Compassion & Choices New York will kick off our summer with a table at the historic 50th anniversary of the Pride celebration in New York City. Millions of people are expected to flood the streets on Sunday, June 30, and our staff and volunteers will be at PrideFest to encourage New Yorkers to let their state representatives know that passage of the bill is long overdue.
We’ll bring the same message to voters in Western New York, Brooklyn, and Westchester where we’ll staff tables at the following events: The Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts in Buffalo on Saturday, August 24 and Sunday, August 25; the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn on Monday, September 2; Yonkers RiverFest on Saturday, September 14; and the Hamburg Farmers Market in Western New York on Saturday, October 26. To join us at any of these events or for more information, please contact [email protected].
Volunteers will also be talking one-on-one to like-minded supporters in key legislative districts, encouraging them to call the offices of their state elected representatives. They’ll be reaching out to elder communities throughout the state with resources and information about end-of-life care planning; talking to health care professionals who provide care to the dying to enlist their support, and meeting with their own lawmakers in their home district offices. If you have extra time to devote this summer or fall, and you’d like to help with these efforts, sign up here and we’ll be in touch with you to talk about how you can help.
Throughout the summer, we’ll continue the aggressive digital advocacy campaign we launched in April, featuring the faces and voices of New York supporters asking the legislature to take action. Check out the posts on Twitter and Facebook. If you haven’t yet shared with us your reasons for supporting New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act, please get in touch with us today. Your lawmakers need to hear it directly from you! You can email us at [email protected].
Join our campaign. Let’s make New York the 10th state to authorize medical aid in dying!
For more information about how to help, to schedule a presentation in your community, or if you want to learn about any of our campaign activities, you can always email [email protected] To follow our campaign, like and follow us on Facebook and add us on Twitter.
Increasing Support Among Doctors
This month, the American Academy of Family Physicians broke from the AMA’s wobbly stance against medical aid in dying and voted to adopt a position of “engaged neutrality” on medical aid in dying at their annual convention on October 9. You can read about the move here: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/903218 Our friends with the New York Academy of Family Physicians were among the strongest voices in the room advancing the debate.
Asking the Candidates
At the end of August, our sister organization, Compassion & Choices Action Network, CCAN, launched a two-part campaignto Ask the Candidates about medical aid in dying in advance of the November 6 general election. CCAN asked supporters across New York State to ask candidates for the state legislature who are asking them for a vote where they stand on medical aid in dying. CCAN provided supporters with a toolkit, and supporters have been hard at work. Supporters in Western New York and the Lower Hudson Valley have met with candidates and received important feedback from them. CCAN also sent a 1-question questionnaire to over 350 candidates for the NYS Assembly and Senate. The organization has gained some important insight into where incumbents and challengers stand on the issue.
A Summer of Fairs & Festivals
This summer, Compassion & Choices New York staffed tables at a dozen local fairs & festivals in key legislative districts. In extreme heat, gusty storms, and even on some gorgeous summer days, nearly 60 volunteers from across the state in Buffalo, Brooklyn, Troy, Harlem, Ulster and Columbia Counties, Croton-on-Hudson, and Long Island talked to thousands of fairgoers about end-of-life care planning and expanding options in New York State. We collected over 3,300 new petition signatures, and gained some energetic new supporters and storytellers.
Exciting Fall Events
Amanda Cavanaugh and I have been busy at work planning an exciting line-up of events this fall. We’re excited to be a part of Reimagine End of Life, a week exploring big questions about life and death in NYC. You can read more about the community-wide conversation that will happen at the end of October here: https://letsreimagine.org/new-york As part of Reimagine, we’re hosting three events: A Community Listening Session on the Medical Aid in Dying Act on October 30 at Judson Memorial Church from 12-1:30 pm; Cocktails & Compassion is a cocktail party we’re hosting that will feature our president and founder Barbara Coombs Lee and Dan Diaz at an East Village bar called Death & Co. from 4-6 pm on October 30; and a very special Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos Celebration co-hosted with the Latino Commission on AIDS at The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on the Lower East Side of Manhattan from 11 am – 12:30 pm on November 1. At that event, we’ll be joined by community leaders and lawmakers. You can read more about and RSVP for these events here: https://compassionandchoices.org/attend-an-event/#new-york-events
On November 8 from 7-8:30 pm, Compassion & Choices’ Medical Director Dr. David Grube will join Assemblymember Amy Paulin for an event: “Choices and Conversations at Life’s End: Expanding Options and Improving Care in the Empire State,” at the JCC of Mid-Westchester. The event is co-hosted by the New York Civil Liberties Union Lower Hudson Valley Chapter, Westchester League of Women Voters, WESPAC, the Ethical Society of Northern Westchester, and the Briarcliff-Ossining Ministerial Association.
The Year Ahead
We hosted a campaign call on December 17 to talk about the results of the 2018 midterm election on November 6th and what effect any changes in the state legislature will have on our campaign. When lawmakers return to Albany in January 2019, we’ll be there, and we’re planning to host a lobby day every Tuesday during the 2019 session. We’re looking for Action Teams, local groups, and regions to “adopt-a-Tuesday” and make it your own. So pick a Tuesday, and help us organize your family, friends, and neighbors to trek to Albany so that lawmakers hear a consistent message from us throughout the session: In 2019, we need to see the legislature take action on the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
For more information about this effort, or any other C&C NY campaign activities, you can always email [email protected]
Spring 2018 has been an exciting time for the campaign to expand end-of-life options in New York State!
- Advocates from all four regional, statewide, and national groups came together to form the New York Alliance for Medical Aid in Dying. You can read about it here.
- Compassion & Choices New York tabled at the SOMOS El Futuro conference in Albany, answering questions about end-of-life options and talking to conference-goers about the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
But this Spring’s highlight was the fact that the New York State Assembly Health Committee held two hearings on the Medical Aid in Dying Act, A2383a/S3151a this Spring. The first hearing was held in Albany on April 23; the second in NYC on May 3. The Committee heard 74 people testify – 48 in favor and 26 opposed – over 14 hours.
You can watch video of both hearings here: http://nyassembly.gov/av/hearings/ The video is easy to navigate; you can scroll through to find the person you want to see testify. There’s a box underneath the video that shows the order in which people appeared at each hearing, and if you click on that person’s name, you’ll be taken to that segment of the video. You can review some of the highlights from each day’s testimony below.
We were pleasantly surprised by news of the release of a Quinnipiac poll on May 3, the day of the second hearing, that showed that 63% of New York voters support “allowing doctors to legally prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their own lives.” Only 29% were opposed. The poll also showed that non-white voters support the idea by a 15-point margin: 54% – 39%.
The hearings garnered positive coverage, including pieces from the Albany Times Union and editorials in favor of the bill issued by the Middletown Record and the Oneonta Daily Star. Other coverage focused on the opposition from MSSNY and people living with disabilities.
The hearings held by the NYS Assembly Health Committee elevated to a new level the issue of expanding end-of-life choices to allow for medical aid in dying. Lawmakers are having discussions amongst themselves about this issue, and the next step for the legislation would be a vote of the NYS Assembly Health Committee on the bill. This can’t happen without your help.
The legislative session ends on June 20, and we need those who support this bill to help us grow support, particularly in places like New York City, Long Island, and Buffalo. There are three things that you can do right now to help us move the bill in the legislature:
- If you haven’t already sent a message to your elected representatives in Albany, please do so right now. You can use this link to send a personalize message today: https://www.compassionandchoices.org/action-alert/tell-legislature-pass-medical-aid-dying-act/. You’ll need to provide your address on the page so that the program knows which Assemblymember and which Senator to send your note to.
- If you have the time to make a phone call today, you can look up the people who represent you in Albany and call them. Click on this link: http://www.elections.ny.gov/district-map/district-map.html After entering your address and hitting “go,” select NYS Senate to find your Senator, and NYS Assembly to find your Assemblyperson. Each of those representatives should have a webpage that you can click on to find their district office phone number. Call them and tell them that you support the Medical Aid in Dying Act, A.2383/S.3151.
- In-person meetings with your representatives in your own home town are the most important way that you can let them know that you support this measure. If you haven’t yet met with your Assemblymember or your Senator to let them know that you want them to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act, please get in touch with us and we’ll match you with a group and help you set up a meeting. Email [email protected] today to find out how to get involved with a meeting in your hometown!
This summer, our campaign will be in Buffalo, Brooklyn, Long Island, and several other communities throughout the state at street fairs and events to talk to voters about their support for the Medical Aid in Dying Act. If you’d like to get involved in your own area, or join us at one of our already-scheduled events, please email us at [email protected]
If you want to plan an activity in your own area, we have plenty of materials and experience to share with you! If you have an idea for a canvassing or signature-gathering event, or a table at your own local fair or event, we can talk with you about your idea, and ship you an Advocacy Toolkit so that you can run an event yourself. Contact us at [email protected] to find out more.
You can also follow us on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/CompassionandChoicesNewYork/
We look forward to seeing you this summer, and working with you to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to the full range of choices at the end of life, including access to medical aid in dying.
Below are some highlights from some of those who testified in support of the bill on April 23 in Albany.
>>Dr. Diana Barnard from Vermont was the first to testify on April 23 in Albany, and she described her experience as a provider in Vermont, and the 40+ combined years of evidence over the 8 jurisdictions that now authorize medical aid in dying.
>>Dr. Omega Silva, an 81-year-old retired physician living in Washington, D.C. with three cancer diagnoses who taught and practiced medicine in D.C. for 50 years, served as the first woman president of the Howard University Medical Alumni Association and was former president of the American Medical Women’s Association, traveled 14 hours to Albany to tell lawmakers how the instinct to add more safeguards to a bill that already has enough has resulted in no one being able to use the law in DC.
>>Former Republican Assemblymember Janet Duprey addressed the Committee and spoke of her own parents’ deaths. She said: “it took eleven agonizing days as my family and I watched our mother and grandmother starve to death. When the end finally came my daughter and I were holding her hands. I can tell you from experience, forcing a person and their loved ones to live through that kind of torture isn’t something we should be proud of as a society. I hope none of you ever have to go through it. To this day I still miss my parents. I am not going to presume that my Dad a devout Irish Catholic or my Mom an equally devote Methodist would have chosen to ask for medical aid in dying at the end. But I am certain that they should have had the ability to choose their own destiny, and I want the ability to choose my own destiny.” You can read an opinion piece that Assemblymember Duprey authored on this topic here.
>>Dr. Christopher Riddle, an ethicist and disability rights advocate from Utica, testified that denying access to aid in dying because we fear the risk that it poses to people living with disability actually demeans and infantilizes people with disabilities. He said, “if we want to promote dignity and respect for the disabled, I suggest it is of utmost importance that we do not allow opposition to assisted dying to deny basic autonomy rights at the end of life.”
>>Disability right advocate Gene Hughes echoed this theme when he talked about his own desire for autonomy and independent living, and how he and others living with disabilities deserve to make their own decisions about dying as they are about the lives the live.
>>Two women living with terminal illness brought the room to tears, and also laughter. Bernadette Hoppe and Susan Rahn both did media before and after the hearing, you can see two great stories about Bernadette from Spectrum News and the Buffalo Law Journal. Bill sponsor, Assemblymember Amy Paulin featured Susan’s testimony on her Facebook page here. Susan was also featured in an excellent article on this subject earlier in our campaign in the Rochester City paper.
>>Scott Barraco from Rochester testified about the horrific death his girlfriend Cathy suffered and said “People not only suffer terrible deaths against their wishes, they suffer the anticipation of it. Cathy was robbed of her ability to plan and make decisions about her death in the same way she did for her life.” Barraco’s story was featured in a piece run on Spectrum News after the hearing (you can view it here: http://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/capital-region/news/2018/04/16/new-alliance-for-medical-aid-in-dying-legislation”), and his story has resonated with people far beyond the bounds of New York State.
>>Dr. Bob Milch, an internationally-recognized palliative care specialist and founder of hospice in Western New York and Dr. Jay Federman, a Saranac Lake-based family doctor and Medical Director for the Tri-Lakes division of High Peaks Hospice, both delivered strong testimony in favor of the bill. Dr. Federman testified that aid in dying would not be an alternative to palliative care but instead would represent “one component of end-of-life” care. The Oneonta Star was persuaded by this, and issued a strong editorial in favor of the bill on May 5.
>>Two women from Ithaca told two stories that began with the diagnosis of a loved one with cancer, but ended in dramatically different ways. Myra Shulman talked about the peaceful death of her mother under California’s End of Life Option Act, and Laurene Gilbert told the committee about how her husband, because he lived in New York without access to aid in dying, suffered, tried to take his own life, and died days later in a coma, not a death he deserved.
>>Barbara Thomas represented the League of Women Voters, which recently came out in support of the legislation after a year-long deliberative process among all of the state’s local chapters. Barb serves as the League’s specialist on this issue in part because of the experience she had with her husband, who suffered tremendously at the end of life and begged her for help to die.
>>Janet Green from Poughkeepsie testified before the committee in remembrance of her best friend and partner of 26 years, Harry, whose pain medication never fully alleviated his pain. Harry begged for help to die. “I feel a sense of peace,” Janet said, “knowing that when the New York State legislature finally adopts the Medical Aid in Dying Act, they will be helping me to honor Harry’s memory, and prevent needless suffering for others like us.”
>>Reverend Doctor Richard Gilbert testified late in the day, and summarized many of the arguments for authorizing medical aid in dying. He spoke most eloquently about the hundreds of deaths he’s attended, distinguishing suicide — characterized by pain, despair, and anguish, with medical aid in dying, the right to die with dignity, “the last right of a human being.” He concluded, “the greatest reverence for life is to end human suffering.”
Testifying against the bill at the April 23 hearing were: Dr. Sally White who talked about how pain and suffering are a part of life and cannot be avoided; disability rights advocates from the group Not Dead Yet; and Kristen Hanson, the wife of recently-deceased opponent and past president of the Patients Rights Action Council, JJ Hanson.
Dr. Thomas Madejski, the new president of the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) also testified against the bill, citing a survey that had been designed to determine the position of it’s doctors. See MSSNY’s release here. Madejski testified that the group’s survey suggested that a majority of New York doctors oppose aid in dying. Assemblymember Paulin, the bill’s sponsor challenged MSSNY’s president on the “Survey Monkey” results, asking whether MSSNY knew how many respondents were MSSNY members, let alone doctors.
Madejski has since admitted that advocates on both sides of the issue circulated the survey to non-MSSNY members. The New York Alliance for Medical Aid in Dying responded to Dr. Madejski’s testimony with this press release, and Compassion & Choices’ African American and Latino Leadership Councils addressed the Health Committee with a letter in response. [insert link here]
Below are some highlights from some of those who testified in support of the bill on May 3 in New York City.
>>3 bioethicists testified in favor, including one of the nation’s leading bioethicists from NYU, Dr. Arthur Caplan, who described how he changed his mind and dropped his opposition to aid in dying. He was featured in an article in Religion News that touched on his views on aid in dying.
>>3 family members lovingly described beautiful deaths of people who used aid in dying laws in WA & VT. You can read a bit about Nancy Murphy‘s sister’s story here; Nancy lives in NY’s North Country and a snippet from her story was used in a news article several months ago. Rachel Remmel traveled to NYC from Rochester to talk about her 31-year old brother’s use the WA law–the youngest person to use it. Her brother documented his decision in very powerful blog entries that Remmel talked about. And, the room was reduced to puddles when 80-year old father Richard Friedberg broke down in tears talking about the beautiful death of his belly-dancing daughter who used Oregon’s Death with Dignity law.
>>7 physicians, including New York’s noted palliative care physician, Dr. Timothy Quill of the Supreme Court case, Vacco v. Quill; two physicians from the New York Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Sara Nosal and Dr. Heather Palladine, who spoke of their own experience, and the position of the Academy, which issued its own press release about the group’s strong support; Dr. David Pratt who’s TED talk you can see here, who found a way to weave Yogi Berra into his testimony; Dr. Sarah Egan, director of Hospice of New York; New Paltz family physician Dr. Maggie Carpenter; and retired pathologist and Long Island resident Dr. Yale Rosen, who had this piece published in 5/3’s Newsday.
>>6 people who told heart-rending stories of the deaths of loved ones who were not able to access medical aid in dying, and died in needless pain and suffering, including Jay Kallio’s girlfriend Bonnie Rose Marcus who described Jay screaming in pain in his Beth Israel hospital bed (you can see a video about Jay here); Stacey Gibson who detailed her husband Sid’s horrendous VSED death (you can read about their story here); Lindsay Wright who told of packing up and leaving NYC so that her NYU professor husband Youssef Cohen could die in Oregon (you can watch their story here); Laura Kelly, who’s tough, Irish Catholic dad asked to go to VT, but was too weak to do so (see their story here); and Peggy Lang told the committee about her mom’s hellish experience in hospice, despite the promises made by the facility in it’s happy brochures.
>>The O’Connors, a couple from Red Hook, NY who told a gorgeously woven-together story about Patty‘s brother who died alone, not wanting to jeopardize anyone in his family when he took his own life. Ed said: “there was only one person who asked us the natural question: ‘How did he do it?’ And the question was not asked out of morbid curiosity, but out of practicality.” He asked the committee to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Law to give his sister, a New Yorker with ovarian cancer, the peace of mind to know that she could end unbearable suffering and could do so surrounded by the love of her family.
>>New York City resident Ida Schmertz talked about her 30-year journey living with three lymphoma diagnoses and her desire for medical aid in dying when there are no more options left;
>>Representatives from the New York Civil Liberties Union (Beth Haroules), and the Latino Commission on AIDS (Guillermo Chacon) who both shared strong testimony in favor of the bill. You can read NYCLU’s testimony here. El Diario posted a great piece featuring Chacon that you can read here.
>>Our partners with our newly-formed New York Alliance for Medical Aid in Dying (which you can read about here) also testified, with 2-3 of their own supporters. Peg Sandeen was the first to appear before the committee; and David Leven and Judith Schwartz provided quality testimony in favor of the bill. With them was a terminally ill supporter Barbara Backer, as well as Columbia-based bioethicist David Hoffman.
>>Compassion & Choices’ New York Campaign Manager Amanda Cavanaugh told the very moving story of her own partner’s painful death while receiving hospice care; and Campaign Director Corinne Carey was the last person to testify, addressing two points opponents had made that hadn’t been addressed by any other testifier: the perceived flaw in the definition of terminal illness that opponents said would allow someone who was unable to afford treatment to access aid in dying; and that people of color oppose the legislation.
Testifying against the bill in New York City were several Catholic doctors; Margaret Dore of Choice is An Illusion; several NY-based advocates living with disabilities; Julie Hocker, a disability rights advocate who works for the American Conservative Union; a representative from Agudath Israel; a doctor from Montreal who spoke about Canada’s experience with aid in dying; A Nevada doctor and Catholic Church deacon, T. Brian Callister; Ed Mechmann, Director of Public Policy for the Archdiocese of New York, and several family members who spoke of premature prognoses and the valuable time spent with dying loved ones they would have been deprived of had aid-in-dying been an option.
If you weren’t able to testify in person, but you have a story to share, please let us know and we’ll be happy to talk to you about the best way to do it.
The second half of 2017 was a busy time for Compassion & Choices’ New York campaign. Our goals were to broaden the movement for expanding end-of-life options in New York, build support among key members of the New York State legislature; and promote a greater understanding of medical aid in dying among New York doctors. From July through November, our dedicated staff, volunteers, and Action Team leaders traveled the state engaging in a variety of activities to meet those goals.
Our campaign set off in August for the 13-day New York State Fair in Syracuse with an ambitious goal of obtaining 6,000 petition signatures in support of New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act. With the help of fifty volunteers from as far north as Saranac Lake in the North Country to Long Island, we exceeded that goal. We obtained a total of 7,754 signatures on our petition; volunteers spoke with close to 20,000 people at the Fair, distributing C&C literature like our advance planning guide “Your Life, Your Priorities.” Volunteers and staff at the fair were able to connect with elected officials and state leaders like NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, US Senator Chuck Schumer, and Assemblymembers who joined Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on his visit to the Fair on August 31.
On October 5, twelve volunteers joined the New York team at the Capitol in Albany to deliver the petitions signed at the Fair to Alphonso David, counsel to NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo. Mr. David met each of our supporters and listened to them share their stories about the importance of passing Medical Aid in Dying in 2018 and urge the Governor’s support. Volunteers included a North Country resident who told of her sister’s use of Vermont’s aid in dying law. A story about her aired on several of the local NPR stations in the region. That evening, NY’s Campaign Director Corinne Carey, Dr. David Pratt, and Gene Hughes, were featured on Capital Tonight talking about the campaign.
The New York Court of Appeals issued it’s ruling on the aid-in-dying case Myers v. Schneiderman on September 7, ruling against the plaintiffs who claimed a state constitutional right to medical aid in dying. In short, the Court found that there was no fundamental right to aid in dying in New York State, and that the legislature had a rational basis for prohibit doctors’ helping dying patients to end their lives.
Compassion & Choices issued the following statement shortly after the ruling: “While we were supportive of the plaintiffs in this case, now we urge our legislature and our governor honor the wishes of more than three-quarters of their constituents by enacting a law in 2018 authorizing medical aid in dying as an option for terminally ill adults to end unbearable suffering. Our job is to educate them that while a very low percentage of terminally ill New Yorkers will utilize this option, similar laws in six other states have improved end-of-life care for many dying people, by spurring conversations about all end-of-life care options, resulting in better utilization of hospice, pain control and palliative care.”
On September 14, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill, H.R. 3354, with an amendment by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (Md.) to repeal D.C.’s Death with Dignity Act. Congress had a chance to repeal the law in February 2017 during a 30-day legislative review period, but that effort failed. Representative Harris has been trying again by using the appropriations process to strip DC residents of their newly-won end-of-life options; to succeed, his resolution requires Senate action before the current continuing resolution to fund the government expires on Dec. 8.
In response to the efforts of those in DC who would take away the autonomy of Washington, D.C. residents who overwhelmingly support medical aid in dying, supporters in New York reached out to their representatives in Congress to ask them to vote “no” should they be asked to consider any action that would repeal the DC law. Terminally ill supporters, those who lost family members after needlessly painful deaths, and supporters who simply want to ensure that everyone has choices at the end of life met with representatives from Senators Schumer and Gillibrand’s offices, and sent hundreds of emails to House representatives voicing their opposition to the Harris amendment.
Throughout the summer and the fall, supporters from over a dozen legislative districts met with lawmakers who have not yet taken a position on the Medical Aid in Dying Act in Syracuse, Long Island, Brooklyn, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and the capital region. In addition to sharing stories of the needlessly painful deaths of loved ones and talking about the desire for autonomy at the end of life, lawmakers also heard about the success of the first six months of implementation of California’s End of Life Option Act and how it’s improved end-of-life care for everyone in that state.
Our campaign staffed tables at the Black Arts and Cultural Festival on August 5 at the Empire State Plaza and the Hispanic Heritage Festival on September 23, both in Albany; screened the award-winning film How to Die in Oregon in Ithaca and Mt. Kisko; and hosted a panel discussion and a screening of Atul Gawande’s PBS segment “Being Mortal” at Judson Memorial Church in New York City.
In our continuing work to build support among doctors for medical aid in dying, the New York campaign sponsored and spoke at the monthly meeting of the First District Branch Meeting of the combined medical societies of the City of New York. Corinne Carey addressed a group of 30 physician leaders of the medical societies at the headquarters of the Queens Medical Society on September 28. The outreach was conducted in anticipation of a survey that the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) has agreed to conduct of its own doctors this fall.
C&C New York attended the StateWide Senior Action Council’s annual convention on October 11 and 12 in Saratoga, New York. Members of the organization traveled to the event from across the state to hear speakers discuss issues that affect seniors. The group reaffirmed its support for Medical Aid in Dying when it adopted its 2018 legislative agenda.
Remembering lost loved ones and discussing what it means to die with dignity was the theme of our Day of the Dead/Dia De Los Muertos gathering in Brooklyn at the Douglass Public House on November 2. Attendees wrote letters to their Assembly representatives to urge them to support the Medical Aid in Dying Act. The event was featured in the Brooklyn Eagle.
New York’s League of Women Voters hosted several events across the state exploring the issue of medical aid in dying, and Compassion & Choices New York participated in events from the tip of Long Island with a panel discussion hosted by the League of Women Voters of Southampton, to a discussion with member in the far-western Chautauqua County. Our campaign will continue to work with regional League chapters to promote public dialogue about medical aid in dying.
In partnership with Evergreen Health, a large community-based healthcare system in Buffalo, the New York campaign premiered a new community workshop on November 14 entitled “Wishes & Values at Life’s End: Getting the Care you Want and Deserve at the End of Life.” The workshop offered participants tools to complete advance planning directives, discussed C&C’s new Truth in Treatment initiative, and outlined the various end-of-life options currently authorized in New York State. Representatives from Hospice Buffalo discussed what hospice has to offer Western New Yorkers, and Dr. Robert Milch, founder of Buffalo’s first hospice program provided closing remarks.
As we look to 2018, the New York campaign will be focused on highlighting the voices of our diverse supporters from across the state; working with healthcare providers to build support for expanding end-of-life options; and demonstrate to legislative leaders in Albany the overwhelming public support for the Medical Aid in Dying Act. To join our campaign in these efforts, click here.
As always, we encourage those who support our campaign to make sure they sign our petition to New York lawmakers; join a local Action Team to learn about regional activities; follow our daily work on Facebook; and check our listing of upcoming events.
Despite tremendous progress made by advocates this Spring, the New York State legislature adjourned for 2017 without taking action on the Medical Aid in Dying Act. Lawmakers will return in January 2018, and its up to us to grow our movement between now and then to demonstrate that New Yorkers believe strongly that we should have the same right to avoid unnecessary suffering at the end of life that those in 6 other states and Washington, DC now have.
Our campaign held or participated in dozens of events across the state, signing up new supporters and bringing in new volunteers. We screened the film How to Die in Oregon in libraries and community venues across the state, and engaged in thoughtful dialogue with supporters and opponents alike
We lost a brilliant and thoughtful supporter, Jim Wiggins, who passed away in Syracuse. Jim penned an opinion piece that appeared in the Syracuse Post Standard that made the case for aid in dying as he and his wife Betsy both faced cancer after witnessing painful deaths in their families. The Wiggins’ advocacy resonated with Assemblymember Pamela Harris, one of the newest co-sponsors of the Medical Aid in Dying Act. Assemblymember Harris told Compassion & Choices that, in addition to personal contemplation and study of opponents’ and supporters’ claims, it was personal contact with constituents like the Wiggins family that persuaded her to support the bill.
When a major snowstorm paralyzed much of the northeast for a few days, our volunteers answered our call for a “Snow Day Action” where they called hundreds of supporters in key legislative districts who were all stuck at home, urging them to call their lawmakers on the Assembly Health Committee to support the bill.
We worked with the surviving partner of Jay Kallio, a strong supporter who passed away in September, to release a short video about his work to advocate for aid in dying, and his wish for a peaceful death. The video recounts the tragic reality that though Jay received end-of-life care at a top NYC hospital, he died in agonizing pain–precisely the death he feared. The video was featured in a major news story that ran in the New York Daily News.
In April, we organized a panel and staffed and exhibit table at the Hospice & Palliative Care Association of New York State (HPCANYS) annual conference in Saratoga Springs. The panel spoke to experiences in handling requests for medical aid in dying and featured Dr. Timothy Quill from the University of Rochester School of Medicine, Dr. Diana Barnard from the University of Vermont Medical Center, and Ann Jackson, former director of the Oregon Hospice Association.
Our campaign welcomed the news that the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) voted at its annual House of Delegates meeting in April in favor of a resolution calling on the Society to survey their members on their attitudes towards medical aid in dying; shortly thereafter, the New York State Public Health Association voted to support the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
More than 100 people joined us in Albany on May 9 for our annual Lobby Day, which featured three strong women advocates who told deeply personal stories about why New York needs to act swiftly to authorize medical aid in dying. Former Republican Assemblymember Janet Duprey made her first return trip to Albany that day to talk to her colleagues about the legislation, sharing the touching stories about the deaths of both of her parents and why they move her to support the bill.
Despite these efforts, the bill did not garner the needed support among members of the Assembly Health Committee to move the bill through that committee. The legislature adjourned on June 21 without taking any action on the bill.
Within a week of the legislature’s departure from Albany, our campaign received welcome news that the New York State Academy of Family Physicians voted to endorse medical aid in dying as a legitimate end-of-life option at its annual Congress of Delegates meeting. Several days later, the California Department of Public Health issued the first report to the legislature on implementation of the state’s new End of Life Option Act. The report confirmed that the law was working as intended, allowing those who were dying to avoid unnecessary suffering. The report is sure to help lawmakers in New York who are on the fence and looking to California for evidence that a diverse and populous state can implement and aid-in-dying law that works for all of its residents.
Our campaign begins the summer with three important goals:
1. Increase the number and diversity of our supporters. To that end, we’ll be planning events in cities and towns across the state, from Western New York to Long Island. But we can’t do it without your help. If you know of a community center, a library, or another prominent venue in your community where you’d like to see a screening of the award-winning film “How to Die in Oregon” or the Frontline special “Being Mortal,” or a panel discussion on the Medical Aid in Dying Act, please contact us and we’ll work with you to make it happen. We’ll also be back at the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse from August 23 through September 4. If you’ve never been to the Fair, please consider joining us and spending an hour or two helping to staff our table, where we’ll be collecting signatures. [link to sign-up page for State Fair: ] Governor Cuomo will be at Fair on August 24, Governor’s Day, and we’re looking for supporters to join us so we can demonstrate the strength of our movement with a highly visible presence at the Fair. Lower Hudson Valley Action Team leader Laura Kelly created a terrific video about our work at the State Fair that can be viewed on Facebook.
2. Build support among key members of the New York State legislature. The most powerful kind of work to pass legislation happens when constituents meet with their elected representatives in person in their home districts. Compassion & Choices New York will be working with groups of constituents in a dozen key legislative districts this summer, supporting voters who may have never gone on a lobby visit before to help them tell their stories to the people who represent them in Albany. If you haven’t yet met face-to-face with your own lawmaker, please get in touch with Amanda Cavanaugh, New York’s campaign organizer, to see how you can join a group in your own area.
3. Promote a greater understanding of medical aid in dying among New York doctors. When MSSNY polls its members in the fall of 2017, we want doctors in New York to understand how medical aid in dying has worked in the states that authorize it, and how giving patients the option improves end-of-life care for everyone. To that end, we’ll be working with doctors across the state to address county medical associations and speak to as many groups of doctors as we can in advance of the survey. We’re asking our supporters to help us by doing one simple thing: Ask Your Doctor. At your next appointment (or if you don’t have one, make one!) simply Ask Your Doctor what he or she thinks about medical aid in dying. We have a handy flier available online that you can use to guide your conversation. After you’ve done that, let us know what your doctor says and we’ll follow up with more information, or talk to your doctor about adding his or her name to our physicians’ letter to the legislature in support of the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
In January 2018, the New York State legislature will reconvene for the second half of it’s two year session. Lawmakers will have 6 short months to take action on the Medical Aid in Dying Act before they adjourn and begin campaigning for re-election in November 2018. Help us lay the groundwork for passage of the bill in 2018 by taking action now. To get involved with any of the activities we’re engaged in, sign up as a volunteer and we’ll be in touch to talk to you about how you can help.
The Medical Aid in Dying Act (S3151/A2383) was re-introduced for the 2017 legislative session, and Compassion & Choices New York thanked the sponsors and rallied supporters with a press conference to launch this year’s campaign to authorize medical aid in dying in the Empire State.
Speaking at the rally alongside legislative sponsors Senator Diane Savino (IDC-Staten Island), Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Chelsea), Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), and Assemblymember and Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried (D-West Village), C&C supporter Susan Rahn told the crowd: “People don’t have to agree with my choice to have aid in dying as an option but they should respect it. Now is the time for the Legislature and Governor to provide this option for me and for every other New Yorker.”
Rahn was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer four years ago, and has been fighting the disease ever since. She has a 17-year-old son who is currently a high school senior.
Meanwhile, around the country efforts are underway to implement newly-passed aid-in-dying laws, and advocates in Washington, D.C. beat back an effort by Congress to block the law that the D.C. City Council passed and the mayor of that city signed into law. As a result, the District of Columbia’s Death with Dignity Act went into effect in mid-February.
Throughout January and February, Compassion & Choices New York has been hard at work building a strong and diverse coalition of supporters for the Medical Aid in Dying Act. Organizations that have signed on in support of the legislation include ACT UP-NY, the Secular Coalition of America-New York Chapter, Voters for Change-ADK, the Rochester Breast Cancer Coalition, Housing Works, Harlem United, End of Life Choices New York, and Mobilizing Preachers & Communities (MPAC). The campaign team has met with new and returning lawmakers to address questions and identify new supporters of the legislation.
The New York campaign partnered with community groups in Cold Springs and Plattsburgh to the award-winning documentary “How To Die In Oregon.” The powerful film follows the lives of terminally ill Oregonians as they consider whether – and when – to take the medication that will allow them to die peacefully. In each location, the film was followed by a discussion about the Medical Aid in Dying Act. If you are interested in arranging a screening of the film with a discussion about the legislation pending in New York, please contact us at [email protected].
A statewide volunteer training webinar for supporters looking to join the campaign was held on January 19. Those who missed the training but want to take action in their own communities to help advance the legislation should contact the campaign at [email protected] to request access to the training from home.
Compassion & Choices New York welcomed a unique opportunity to work with Dr. Haider Warraich, a bright new author and physician who has contributed a number of thought-provoking pieces on death and dying to The New York Times, the Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal. His first book, Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life, was released on February 7. C&C hosted a dinner for a small number of supporters with Dr. Warraich, who shared an excerpt from a forthcoming piece with the group.
On February 8, Dr. Warraich read from his book at the Housing Works Bookstore Café in SoHo, a premiere NYC literary venue. New York campaign director Corinne Carey joined Dr. Warraich onstage to talk about Medical Aid in Dying Act and C&C’s campaign to authorize expanded end-of-life choices in the Empire State.
“Love, Compassion, and Faith” was the theme of the Valentine’s Day Faith Gathering sponsored by Compassion & Choices New York at the New York State Capitol Building in Albany on Valentine’s Day. Religious leaders of from a variety of diverse faith traditions spoke of ministering to dying New Yorkers, and what faith and experience have taught them about the choices we face at the end of life.
In the coming months, we’ll be working with the sponsors of the Medical Aid in Dying Act to move the bill through the requisite Assembly Health and Codes committees before it can be brought the full Assembly floor for a vote by all members. The campaign is calling for all New Yorkers who support the idea that terminally ill adults should have the full range of options available to them at the end of life, including the option of medical aid in dying, to take action by letting their elected officials know how they feel. Click here to send a message to your lawmakers. Those who want to lend some time to the campaign and help mobilize others to take action should sign up to volunteer here.
As always, we encourage those who support our campaign to make sure they sign our petition to New York lawmakers; join a local Action Team to learn about regional activities; follow our daily work on Facebook; and check our listing of upcoming events.
Compassion & Choices New York welcomes the New Year at a time of tremendous growth in our movement to improve care and expand options at the end of life. Colorado became the sixth state to authorize medical aid in dying by ballot initiative in November 2016, and Washington, D.C. is set to become the next jurisdiction that authorizes the practice, after the Mayor signed a measure passed by the D.C. City Council. Polls from across the country are showing vast majorities of people, including people of all faith traditions, who support autonomy at the end of life.
And here in New York, we’ve spent the past six months traveling the state from Long Island to Buffalo, Brooklyn to the North Country, and everywhere in between to help supporters across the state raise their voices to let lawmakers know that they want the same access to comprehensive end-of-life care that so many Americans now have.
Together with a dedicated group of volunteers in Central New York, we spoke with over 6,000 fairgoers at the Great New York State Fair; we gathered thousands of petition signatures and over 4,200 postcards to lawmakers. We showed the film “How to Die in Oregon” and held panel discussions in communities across the state.
Our supporters reached out to over two dozen candidates for state legislative offices with information about aid in dying through our Ask the Candidate campaign, and our Action Teams staffed events at local fairs, malls, and busy transit stops talking to New Yorkers about the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
Our campaign participated in events like the one at Fordham University with professors of theology and pastoral care talking about faith and autonomy at the end of life; and a Community Conversation in Utica sponsored by the Resource Center for Independent Living (RCIL), a disability rights and services organization in the Mohawk Valley. On November 2, we held a first-of-its-kind event on Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, at El Museo del Barrio in Manhattan with Latino advocates for aid in dying to remember those we’ve lost. And, we began working with MPAC-New York (Mobilizing Preachers & Communities) to engage in conversations with people in communities of color about making sure we all get the care we want at the end of our lives.
Lawmakers will return to Albany in early January and reintroduce the Medical Aid in Dying Act in both the Senate and the Assembly. For the next six months that the legislature is in session, our campaign will hold one major event each month in Albany, as well as support local action teams across the state in their own events and activities. We’ll hold a statewide teleconference training for all of our volunteers to give them updates about New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act on January 19. We will also hold a press conference with our supporters and the sponsors of the Medical Aid in Dying Act on January 23 in Albany. On February 14, faith leaders and people of faith from across the state will gather for an Interfaith Gathering on Valentine’s Day at the New York State Capitol. And on June 9, supporters from across the state will travel to Albany for our Spring Lobby Day to talk to lawmakers about why New Yorkers demand access to expanded end-of-life options.
We encourage those who support our campaign to make sure they sign our petition to New York lawmakers; join a local Action Team to learn about regional activities; follow our daily work on Facebook; and check our listing of upcoming events.
In preparation for the 2017 legislative session, our campaign has been hard at work this summer building support for the Medical Aid in Dying Act across the state.
The summer started on a high note on June 19 when the New York State Academy of Family Physicians passed a resolution of neutrality on New York legislation authorizing aid in dying, modeling it’s position on the one taken by the California Medical Association in 2015 which cleared the way for the California legislature to pass the End of Life Option Act.
Our campaign traveled to the North Country and to Poughkeepsie to show the film How to Die in Oregon and hold discussions with supporters; our Action Teams tabled at local summer fairs; our supporters held meetings with lawmakers in their district offices; we met with healthcare providers and the professional associations that represent them; and we began working with a diverse group of clergy leaders to plan activities for Winter 2017.
At the end of August 2016, we will launch a 2-month campaign to introduce ourselves to state legislative candidates in key electoral districts and have our supporters ask them if they support medical aid in dying.
We’ve also launched a postcard campaign so that lawmakers are hearing from our supporters throughout the year. We’re asking all of our supporters across the state to send postcards to both their Assemblymembers and Senators asking them to support the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
Our campaign ends its summer work with a table at New York’s State Fair in Syracuse where 30 dedicated volunteers—including doctors, nurses, terminally ill supporters, and people living with disabilities—are engaging with hundreds of fairgoers to answer their questions about medical aid in dying and the legislation pending in Albany, and asking them to sign postcards and our petition to New York lawmakers.
As we enter the fall season and prepare for 2017 legislative session, we’re looking to build the strength of our Action Teams, where supporters organize their own activities in cooperation with the statewide campaign, recruit supportive doctors to help us enlist the support of professional healthcare associations, and Read the stories of New Yorkers at the bottom of CompassionAndChoices.org/New-York.
What is the status of the legislation in New York?
Over the course of the 2016 legislative session, Compassion & Choices worked with the sponsors of two bills that had been pending in the legislature since Feb. 2015 (the End of Life Options Act and the Patient Self-Determination Act) to reach agreement on a unified bill. That bill, the Medical Aid in Dying Act (A.10059/S.7579), was introduced on May 10, 2016 at a press conference that kicked off C&C’s Spring Lobby Day. The legislation provides that a terminally ill, mentally capable adult can request life-ending medication from a doctor that the person can take at a time of his or her choosing, or never, should suffering become unbearable, so long as she or he can self-administer it. The Medical Aid in Dying Act was passed by the Assembly Health Committee on May 23, 2016 on a vote of 14-11. The NYS legislature adjourned for 2016 on June 18.
Does the Medical Aid in Dying Act have to be reintroduced in the new 2-year legislative cycle beginning January 2017?
Yes. The Medical Aid in Dying Act will have to be reintroduced with a new bill number for the 2017-2019 legislative session. It will have to be passed by the Health Committee again and then the Assembly Codes Committee before being sent to the floor of the Assembly for a vote. The bill also needs to be passed by the relevant Senate committees (Health & Codes) before reaching the Senate floor.
What is C&C NY doing between now and when the lawmakers return to Albany in January 2017?
The New York campaign is working through the Summer and the Fall to garner support for the Medical Aid in Dying Act among influential statewide organizations, faith leaders, and healthcare professionals. If you know a doctor, a faith leader, or an organization that might support our campaign to authorize medical aid in dying in New York State, we need to hear from you. We have sign-on letters for each of these groups and would be happy to work with our supporters to share those tools.
In addition, our 50,000 supporters through the state are working on four fronts for the next six months:
- Building Regional Action Teams. We are working with supporters to develop and strengthen “Action Teams” in all 11 regions of the state. An Action Team is a group of supporters and volunteers who come together in their own hometown to engage in activities like collecting petition signatures, tabling at local venues, holding letter-writing events, visiting with their lawmakers in their home districts, and sponsoring educational events. Action Team leaders connect local supporters with the statewide campaign.
- Attending In-district Lobby Visits. Supporters across the state are organizing in district lobby visits with key lawmakers. Teams of supporters visit with their elected officials to share their stories and talk about why lawmakers should support the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
- Participating in our Electoral Engagement Campaign. Our supporters will begin engaging incumbents and new candidates in key electoral districts on the issue of medical aid in dying. A tool kit for our electoral engagement campaign will be rolled out on August 22, 2016.
- Disseminating information about our Ask Your Doctor Campaign. We’re asking our supporters across the state to ask their own doctors at their next physical or other appointment whether they agree that terminally ill New Yorkers should have access to medical aid in dying. We’ve developed a trifold flyer that provides our supporters with everything they need to ask their doctor and send the results back to our campaign. We will launch our Ask Your Doctor campaign digitally on July 18, 2016.
We’re also going to be staffing an information and petition-gathering table at The Great New York State Fairin Syracuse, New York from August 25-September 5. Please email Amanda at [email protected] to sign up to attend the fair. We’ll provide a free training to volunteers who sign up to join us.
Stay tuned……we’re holding a statewide volunteer training in October 2016 for those who want to get more involved in our campaign.