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Letter: Tell Lawmakers to back aid-in-Dying

Times Union  September 27, 2017: We are undeterred. The recent state Supreme Court decision regarding medical aid-in-dying was disappointing, but supporters should understand that there is still a valid and legitimate pathway to achieve our goal.

The lawsuit sought a solution through the courts. The approach of Death with Dignity–Albany, in collaboration with Compassion & Choices New York and other advocates around the state, is to take the legislative path. We are working to encourage our state lawmakers to pass the Medical Aid-in-Dying Act, which would enable terminally ill patients to have some control over the end of their life and to hasten their end peacefully if suffering becomes too great. Polls consistently show that more than 70 percent of New Yorkers would like to have this option available to them, whether or not they would actually use it.

Medical aid-in-dying is legal in six states, including Oregon, and has worked exactly as intended for the past 19 years with no evidence of abuse of the law. The proposed New York legislation is based on the Oregon law, with the same thorough and careful safeguards. Supporters need to be sure that legislators hear their voices. The path to victory is through the Legislature, and the voice of constituents will help to influence a positive response.

Bonnie Edelstein
Founder and director, Death with Dignity–Albany

Court of Appeals Dismisses Appeal for Aid in Dying

September 7, 2017: The Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, dismissed a case that sought to have New York courts recognize the right to medical aid in dying. In the case Myers v. Schneiderman, the plaintiffs (terminally ill patients, medical providers, and End of Life Choices New York) asked the courts to rule on the basis of an interpretation of existing assisted-suicide statutes and/or equal protection and due process clauses of the New York Constitution. The decision upheld the dismissal of the case at an earlier stage, so the plaintiffs never had the opportunity to present their case before a court.

Opponents of aid in dying hailed the decision as a victory, while proponents reaffirmed their efforts to have the legislature enact the Medical Aid in Dying Act.

The situation here contrasts with that in Montana, where the Montana Supreme Court ruled in favor of physician aid in dying on December 31, 2009. In the case Baxter v. Montana the plaintiffs (a patient, four doctors, and Compassion & Choices) claimed the right under sections of the state constitution regarding individual dignity and privacy. A district court agreed, protecting both the patient and the patient’s physician. On appeal by the state, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision, but not on constitutional grounds. Instead, the court based its ruling largely on an interpretation of the existing Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.

Since the ruling, proponents of aid in dying in Montana have sought to have the legislature establish rules and procedures for the practice, and opponents have sought to have the ruling overturned. No law has passed.

Also, in New Mexico on January 13, 2014 a Judicial Court ruled that medical aid in dying was a (state) constitutional right. Ultimately, on June 30, 2016, the New Mexico Supreme Court overruled that decision. Since then, attempts to pass an “End of Life Options Act” have failed.

Lobby Day for Medical Aid in Dying

May 9, 2017: Nearly one hundred advocates for the Medical Aid in Dying Act from around New York State, including a contingent from Death with Dignity–Albany, gathered in Albany today under the auspices of the Compassion and Choices New York campaign. After a morning press conference in the Capitol led by campaign director Corinne Carey, advocates fanned out to see their Senators and Assembly Members in the Legislative Office Building during the afternoon.

The participation by Death with Dignity–Albany supporters was enhanced by a training session on May 4, which included presentations by Compassion and Choices organizers Corrine Carey and Amanda Cavanaugh and by Assembly Member Phil Steck. These were followed by a role-playing demonstration.

Personal reflections on the Lobby Day experience were prepared by Susan Harris and are available in our library HERE.

Medical Aid in Dying Act Reintroduced for 2017

January 23, 2017: Compassion & Choices New York Campaign Director Corinne Carey joined Senator Diane Savino (IDC-Staten Island), Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Westchester), Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), other legislators and supporters to announce the reintroduction of the Medical Aid in Dying Act for 2017 at a Capitol news conference on Monday, January 23. It was attended by many C&C and Death with Dignity-Albany supporters and was widely covered by the media.

The text of the bill is available HERE.

Many statewide organizations have announced their support for aid in dying legislation, including New York StateWide Senior Action Council, End of Life Choices New York, MPAC (Mobilizing Preachers & Communities), Harlem United, Housing Works, Adirondack Voters for Change and Secular Coalition for New York. In addition, a growing number of national organizations representing healthcare professionals have endorsed or taken a neutral position on medical aid in dying, including the American Medical Women’s Association, the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, American Academy of Legal Medicine, American Medical Student Association and American Public Health Association.

A robust campaign is underway to move this bill through the Assembly Health committee and the Codes committee. You can help! Suggestions for taking action are on the Take Action page of our website, and you can participate in events such as the legislative Lobby Day on May 9.

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