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Terminally Ill NYC Woman Who Pleaded for NYS Legislature to Pass Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill Dies Before Lawmakers Act

Compassion & Choices Releases Post-Mortem YouTube Video of Artist/Filmmaker Barbara Hammer to Keep Her Voice Alive about Urgency of Passing Bill

A terminally ill New York City artist and filmmaker, Barbara Hammer, who did multiple local interviews in February urging the New York Legislature to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act because she was too ill to attend the Albany news conference to introduce the bill, died on Saturday, March 16. She was 79.

“My sweetheart died Saturday morning with suffering,” said Barbara’s spouse Florrie Burke for the last 31 years. “It shouldn’t be this way and that’s why she advocated for our lawmakers to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act. I hope they act soon, so other terminally ill New Yorkers will have the option to die peacefully.”

“Barbara was in hospice, so she knew she would die soon, yet she selflessly did everything within her diminished power to do to advance this compassionate legislation to give terminally ill New Yorkers the option to end unbearable suffering and die peacefully,” said Corinne Carey, New York Campaign Director for Compassion & Choices. “She delivered a videotaped lecture at the Whitney Museum of Art, wrote an op-ed for The [New York] Daily News, did interviews with The New Yorker and WCBS-TV,  and recorded a video that we are releasing now to keep her voice alive about the urgency for lawmakers to pass this bill.”

From left, NY State Senator Brad Hoylman, cosponsor of Medical Aid in Dying Act, Barbara Hammer and her spouse Florrie Burke on Feb. 6, 2019. Barbara Hammer died on Saturday, March 16, 2019.

“Lawmakers can honor Barbara Hammer’s courageous advocacy by fast-tracking passage of this legislation, so no other New Yorker has to suffer needlessly at life’s inevitable end,” concluded Carey.

My cancer is incurable…I will reach a very debilitated state. My doctor has told me that,” says Barbara in the new video in which she cites enduring more than 100 chemo treatments over 12 years since her ovarian cancer diagnosis before she entered hospice last year. “I would so much like to be able to manage my own death by choosing the time and the person I’d like to have with me, so that I can die in comfort and with compassion and not in pain and morphine-drugged.

Barbara’s YouTube video is posted at bit.ly/BarbHammerAIDvideo

I want Gov. Cuomo and state legislators to hear the request of this dying woman,” wrote Barbara in an oped published by The Daily News on Feb. 18. “Please pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act to allow terminally ill New Yorkers to decide if they want to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can take if their suffering becomes intolerable, so they can end their lives peacefully in their sleep. All of us, regardless of what we believe, deserve to die in a way that is consistent with our beliefs.”

In lieu of flowers, Barbara’s spouse, Florrie Burke, asks their loved ones and friends to urge state lawmakers to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act ASAP at CompassionandChoices.org/New-York.

More than three dozen people testified in support of the New York Medical Aid in Dying Act  (A.2694/S.3947) at two Assembly Health Committee hearings last Spring in Albany and New York City. These supportive testifiers included terminally ill adults, family members of loved ones who died badly, bioethicists, clergy members, disability rights activists, and doctors. Their testimonies are posted at: compassionandchoices.org/resource/new-york-state-hearings-2018/

A 2018 Quinnipiac poll showed 63 percent of New York State voters support medical aid in dying. A 2018 Medscape survey showed 67 percent of New York State doctors support legislation to authorize medical aid in dying. In addition, the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, New York State Public Health Association and the Latino Commission on AIDS have endorsed the Medical Aid in Dying Act. Other bill supporters include: ACT UP-NY, Harlem United, Housing Works, League of Women Voters of New York State, Mobilizing Preachers and Communities (MPAC), New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), New York Society for Ethical Culture, and StateWide Senior Action Council.

Medical aid in dying is authorized in Washington, D.C. and seven states, representing nearly one-fifth (19%) of the nation’s population, with 40+ collective years of experience successfully implementing this end-of-life care option: California, Colorado, Hawai‘i, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington State.


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