Time for New York to Pass Medical Aid in Dying

May 9, 2017

Compassion & Choices called on the New York State Legislature to do what the public wants and pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act (S.3151/A.2383). Legislators and advocates supporting medical aid in dying were joined at a Capitol news conference today by several people from across the state who have been deeply and personally affected by New York not being a state where medical aid in dying is currently legal.

The legislation would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable so they can die peacefully in their sleep.

“New Yorkers overwhelmingly support medical aid in dying and now the legislature needs to catch up to the public,’ said Corinne Carey, Compassion & Choices New York Campaign Director. “Lawmakers seeking reelection next year should be paying attention to what their constituents want, and they should act to make sure that New York joins six other states and the District of Columbia in authorizing medical aid in dying before Election day 2018.”

“I want to live more than anything else. I want to see my son graduate college, I want to see him finish medical school, I want to someday hold my grandchildren,” said Rochester resident Susan Rahn, who was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer four years ago. “What I don’t want is to suffer and be in uncontrollable pain while my body shuts down for what could be weeks and I don’t want my son and my family to have to watch me go through that. Medical aid in dying is a choice I should be able to make for myself and for my family.”

“I cared for a patient who took his own life with a shotgun to end his suffering from COPD. His violent death had a profoundly negative impact on his family, and it changed my understanding of suffering. It strongly influenced my choice to become an advocate for medical aid in dying,” said David Pratt, MD, former Schenectady County Commissioner of Public Health Services, and a palliative care provider. “New Yorkers should not have to take desperate and violent measures when pain and suffering become too much to bear. They should have access to the peaceful and sound option of medical aid in dying.”

Lindsay Wright, wife of Youssef Cohen, a professor of politics at New York University, who died from incurable mesothelioma, said: “My husband died last year after fighting an incurable disease for four years. He wanted to die at home, surrounded by friends and family. But he knew he couldn’t have full control over his own death in New York. We moved to Oregon so that Youssef could take advantage of their aid in dying law. So many people have told me they could never do what we did – move to another state to die, far from friends and family. They want to die where they live, surrounded by people they love. My husband wanted all those things, too.

“New Yorkers with terminal illnesses deserve to have the right to choose the kind of death they want here in New York. I urge our legislators to come together now to pass medical aid in dying legislation so that no New Yorker is forced to do what we did – leave their family and friends behind to die somewhere else. Make us all proud to be New Yorkers,” Wright said.

Janet Green, who lost her partner of 26 years, Harry, one year ago today, May 9, 2016, said: “Harry loved life, with a passion for hunting, fishing and camping. Even after being diagnosed with brain cancer eight years ago, he continued to try do things he loved. In February 2016 he fell. Diagnostic testing revealed bone cancer. He realized his life would continue to be painful. At that point, he wanted me to shoot him. Of course, I would not.

“Hospice came to our home and provided support for me, and pain medication for Harry. They were wonderful but it was not enough. His pain often broke through and became unbearable. He often said, ‘please help me die.’ It was agonizing to watch the man I love suffer so much. I believe terminally ill adults should have legal options that help them die without prolonged suffering, and that’s why I’m asking lawmakers to support the Medical Aid in Dying Act,” Green said.

Former Assemblymember Janet L. Duprey (R-Clinton/Franklin/St. Lawrence Counties), said: “I am so supportive of the Medial Aid in Dying legislation, I’m returning to Albany for the first time since I retired at the end of 2016. Although I’ve always preferred to keep my personal life private, I am sharing the story about my parents’ suffering during their last days. If legislators will consider the agony of watching loved ones die slow tortuous deaths, they will realize the importance of allowing people to have the ability to choose their own destiny.”

Medical aid in dying is authorized in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado and most recently, the District of Columbia.

Senator Diane Savino (IDC-Staten Island), prime sponsor or the bill, said: “Medical aid in dying continues to gain traction at the Capitol, and here is a simple fact the opposition continues to miss. The fight won’t be won because of press releases sent out by people who haven’t even taken the time to read the bill and learn the facts. We will get this law passed because it’s the right thing to do. New Yorkers will do what they always do, let elected leaders know how they feel. And every poll that’s out there says the overwhelming majority of people in every area of the state support medical aid in dying. I am the first to say this is not a program for everyone. I don’t know what my decision would be if I were in that situation. But I do know I would want the option for me and my loved ones.”

Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Westchester), prime sponsor of the bill, said: The Medical Aid in Dying Act gives a dying person relief and peace of mind at a terrifying time when they are facing unbearable suffering. It’s time for New Yorkers to have this additional end-of-life care option.”

Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried, a co-sponsor of the bill, said: “This bill is about patient autonomy and dignity. For over a hundred years, New York law has recognized that adults with mental capacity have the right to refuse life-saving treatment. Morally and legally, they should have the right to end their suffering through medication if that is their own choosing. I look forward to moving the bill forward again this session towards Assembly passage.”

Assemblymember Billy Jones (D-Clinton/Franklin/St. Lawrence Counties), a co-sponsor of the bill, said: “I, along with countless of other individuals, have watched a loved one succumb to a slow and painful death. The Medical Aid in Dying Act offers sound peace of mind to those patients who are confronting the possibility of a prolonged and agonizing end. It is these very people who need our compassion and understanding the most, and this legislation grants them that serenity. I strongly believe that we should have the ability to choose our own fate when facing a terminal illness.”

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said: “Mentally capable adults who are terminally ill should not be forced to undergo an agonized, prolonged dying process. We support the New York Medical Aid in Dying Act because it provides reasonable policies – with important safeguards to protect patients – that will enable mentally capable, terminally ill adults to make their own choices when it comes to the end of their life.”

Laurie Leonard, Executive Director, End of Life Choices New York, said: “Hospice and palliative care can ensure a peaceful, pain-free death for most people. But some have conditions even the best palliative care cannot treat successfully. It is cruel and inhumane to turn our backs on those people and say they must endure tremendous suffering before they die. Many people who have seen a loved one die a bad death want to do everything they can to spare others from suffering this way. That’s why most New Yorkers support medical aid in dying.”

Charles King, CEO Housing Works, said: “Although an HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence due to advancements in medical science, there was a time where people with AIDS were suffering terribly and end of life choices were few. Some folks took their own lives in horrible and violent ways to end the suffering. We as a society cannot deny terminally ill people the ability to control the manner of their death. The Medical Aid in Dying Act allows people to make fully informed decisions and is modeled after an Oregon state law that has proven to be sound public health policy for more than 20 years. It is basic compassion and common sense that we ask the Legislature to pass this important legislation

“There is a steady groundswell of support building for medical aid in dying in New York,” Carey said. “The Medical Society of the State of New York recently voted to authorize a survey of physicians on medical aid in dying. The New York State Public Health Association has now endorsed the legislation, as has the New York Civil Liberties Union. These organizations deliberated for several years and have now joined groups like the Statewide Senior Action Council, ACT UP-New York, Harlem United, the Rochester Breast Cancer Coalition, Mobilizing Preachers and Communities, and Housing Works in support.

“It’s hard to talk about death and dying, but our work is to sit down with each lawmaker one-on-one to hear their questions and concerns about this legislation. New Yorkers are counting on their lawmakers to face this difficult issue with a clear understanding of what the bill would do, not clouded by misinformation or distortion,” Carey said. “We are confident that groundswell of public support will be well represented in the Legislature.”

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