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Compassion & Choices Video Pays Tribute to Dr. Robert Milch, Co-Founder, Hospice & Palliative Care Buffalo (March 25, 1943 – June 4, 2021)

A Longtime, Prominent Advocate for Medical Aid in Dying, Dr. Milch Urged Legislature to Pass Medical Aid in Dying Act Until the Day He Died

One week ago, Friday, June 4, Robert Milch, MD, FACS, passed away after a battle with cancer at the age of 78. Dr. Milch co-founded Hospice & Palliative Care Buffalo in 1978, one of the nation’s first hospices, and had a 40+ year career as a surgeon and an internationally recognized palliative and hospice care expert. He received more than a dozen awards and honorary degrees throughout his career. 

Dr. Milch was a longtime supporter of medical aid in dying. As he said in his final column about this topic, published posthumously today on Empire Report, “I’ve been advocating for many years – this is not a deathbed conversion – for New York lawmakers to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act.”

Dr. Milch started urging New York lawmakers several years ago to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act (A.4321a/S.6471) that would allow terminally ill New Yorkers to peacefully end unbearable suffering. The video, released today by Compassion & Choices as a tribute to Dr. Milch, includes an interview with him conducted four years ago in 2017 – before he got cancer.  Below are highlights of the video transcript:

“The notion of medical aid in dying is a natural extension of the choices, options, which patients should have a legitimate claim to in end-of-life care.

“What patients tell us is that just knowing that the option is available is liberating, lifts the burden from their shoulders. 

“It is in the best traditions of the profession to remain engaged with our patients, to walk with them as far down the road as we possibly can, to support them, to understand their goals, their objectives, their wishes, and then to move heaven and earth any way we can professionally to support them.

“Medical aid in dying fundamentally is a patient-driven component of care….with decades of experience in other places, there has never been a documented case of abuse. 

“Legislative inaction now is punitive, and time is not an ally of the patient. We have all the data we need to reasonably bring aid and dying to fruition, certainly in New York State, where the polls have demonstrated overwhelming support from the lay public, a majority of physicians endorsing it. Legislators need not necessarily endorse it, but for goodness sake, don’t prohibit it. And by not acting on it, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

“Think, legislate wisely, but by all means, legislate. Knowing that my family is supportive, now, I want the option.”

Unfortunately, the Legislature failed to act in time for Dr. Milch. 

Melissa Milch, daughter of Dr. Milch, said: “My dad was an amazing role model for his children and grandchildren. He lived life to its fullest – both professionally and personally – up until his very last days. Fortunately, dad didn’t suffer at the end. He had incredible palliative and hospice care from an organization of dedicated professionals that he was honored to co-found more than 40 years ago. Helping people at the end of life was dad’s passion. That’s why he was committed to seeing the Medical Aid in Dying Act passed in New York. He was working on that very issue – writing and emailing – the night before he died. The Milch family is dedicated to seeing dad’s desire to have the option of medical aid in dying for those who suffer at the end of life become a reality.” 

Compassion & Choices Senior New York Campaign Director Corinne Carey said, “Dr. Milch was a guiding light for our campaign. He was smart, fierce, funny, and simply put, a good person. An incredibly good person who will be sorely missed by many. I am grateful that Dr. Milch did not suffer long, and remained engaged until the end. He emailed our campaign the night before he died, writing, “You have my unqualified permission to proceed as you deem best with the media materials.” 

“I only wish the Legislature would listen to Dr. Milch. Sadly, some legislators refused to even meet with him in his final months. The man who had helped thousands of Western New Yorkers and their families over the years, and some state legislators from Erie County wouldn’t even talk to him,” Carey said. “Over the last several years of this campaign, too many of our advocates have died. Too many have died suffering and in pain. This legislative inaction must end. As Dr. Milch said – four years ago – ‘Legislative inaction now is punitive.’

“Currently, those who oppose medical aid in dying can die as they choose – without a medical aid-in-dying prescription. But those who want the option of medical aid in dying CANNOT die as they choose,” Carey said. “If the law is passed then both opponents and supporters of the law can die as they wish, according to their personal morals, beliefs, religious and spiritual views.”

New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act is supported by the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, League of Women Voters of New York State, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York State Public Health Association, StateWide Senior Action Council, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Harlem United, Latino Commission on AIDS, Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, NOW-NY, and Latinos for Healthcare Equity, and the WESPAC Foundation, among many others.

Here is a fitting tribute to Dr. Milch from the Buffalo News.

Watch Dr. Milch’s final video:


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