New York Prohibition on Medical Aid in Dying in New York Is Unconstitutional, Advocacy Group Says

May 17, 2017
Kevin Diaz, National Director of Legal Advocacy for Compassion & Choices

Kevin Diaz, National Director of Legal Advocacy for Compassion & Choices

Compassion & Choices has filed an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit asserting that New York laws against aiding or causing someone else’s death do not apply to physicians who provide medical aid in dying to suffering terminally ill adults who request it. The New York State Court of Appeals is considering hearing the case, Myers v. Schneiderman, after two lower courts previously dismissed it.

Compassion & Choices won a somewhat similar suit in 2009 when the Montana Supreme Court ruled in Baxter v. Montana that: “… we find no indication in Montana law that physician aid in dying provided to terminally ill, mentally capable adult patients is against public policy.”

“… a decision by this Court now to recognize the constitutional rights of terminally ill patients and their doctors will protect [them] while they wait for the Legislature to address this issue — a wait that many terminally ill patients simply cannot afford,” states the amicus brief, which is posted at: “… this Court should act now to protect terminally ill patients’ rights — including their rights to freedom of speech, due process or equal protection …”

The New York Legislature is considering the Medical Aid in Dying Act (S3151/A2383), sponsored by Senator Diane Savino (Staten Island) and Assemblymember Amy Paulin (Westchester).

“The Court should not delegate its duty to protect the constitutional rights of physicians and terminally ill patients to the Legislature merely because this case raises questions of public policy,” said David B. Bassett, a New York-based partner in the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, which filed the amicus brief on behalf of Compassion & Choices. “This Court has recognized that its duty to decide questions of law and public policy … is not impeded by the possibility that the question may, at some point, also be addressed by the Legislature.”

A September 2015 poll of New Yorkers, commissioned by Compassion & Choices, found 77 percent support for allowing a terminally ill, mentally competent adult the option to request aid in dying medication.

“… terminally ill patients who wish to exercise their fundamental right to self-determination over their bodies by opting for medical aid in dying will suffer needlessly should this Court decide to wait for the legislative process to enact a statute that provides for medical aid in dying,” said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “This Court’s recognition of the important right to medical aid in dying will encourage the Legislature to act … on this legislation and ensure the proper regulation of this right, as opposed to maintaining the unconstitutional status quo.”

Medical aid in dying is authorized in six states: California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, which represent 18 percent of the nation’s population. The 30+ years of collective experience in these jurisdictions with medical aid in dying demonstrate no evidence of abuse or coercion of this medical practice.

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