With the state Legislature winding down its 2019 session, we urge the Assembly and Senate not to use their remaining weeks in Albany to take up a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in New York.
Allowing doctors to give lethal doses of drugs to patients who want to kill themselves upends the very basis of medical practice, undermining the physician’s role as healer and changing forever the doctor-patient relationship.
It’s no surprise that the American Medical Association calls assisted suicide “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role,” and the Medical Society of the State of New York recently reaffirmed its opposition, stating, “As physicians, we value the importance of each person’s life.”
So do we.
That’s why we’re so strongly opposed to the Medical Aid in Dying Act sponsored by Amy Paulin in the Assembly and Diane Savino in the Senate.
Longstanding medical, moral and legal standards have accepted the principle of withdrawing extraordinary medical assistance, which removes burdensome or useless treatments while providing compassionate and dignified care to dying patients.
The assisted suicide bill, by contrast, permits doctors to take active steps to make a patient die. It would almost certainly lead to psychological, financial or other pressures on vulnerable persons to end their lives.
The legislation contains many of the same grave flaws that were in previous bills: It does not require screening or treatment for clinical depression; requires the physician to list the patient’s underlying illness as cause of death, making it impossible to track suicide abuses; and has no safeguards against coercion or abuse once the lethal drugs are in the patient’s possession.
New York’s proposal also does not contain a residency requirement, raising the possibility of suicide clinics opening up to serve out-of-state patients.
Meanwhile, as noted by the New York State Catholic Conference, legalization would place the state in the illogical position of condoning or facilitating suicide in one class of people—those with terminal illness— while recognizing suicide as a serious statewide public health concern in all other circumstances, and spending enormous resources to combat it.
Assisted suicide bills have been floating around Albany since at least 2016, and a movement to legalize the practice in states around the country has lately picked up steam, with New Jersey’s legislature being the most recent. The practice is now legal in eight states and the District of Columbia.
Notably, though, bills in Connecticut and Maryland have failed in recent weeks, and bills died earlier this year in Arkansas, Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, Virginia and Utah. This month, the Medical Society of Delaware reaffirmed its opposition to assisted suicide, rejecting a move by proponents to change its stance to neutral.
In the past, despite ongoing campaigns by advocates, the legalization of assisted suicide never gained much traction in Albany, given that the Republican majority in the state Senate would surely oppose it. Now, with Democrats in control of both houses of the Legislature and a Democratic governor in Andrew Cuomo, the fate of such a bill is uncertain.
Indeed, Cuomo voiced support for the practice recently in response to a reporter’s question, making his first public comments on what he called a “difficult” and “controversial” issue.
“I say pass the bill,” he said, adding, “I think it’s a situation we have to address.”
To counter what appears to be growing support for assisted suicide, we urge New Yorkers to make their voices heard in opposition. The Catholic Conference website www.nyscatholic.org has links to contact legislators and the governor.
We also join other Catholics and our New York bishops in urging the state to remove barriers and improve access to palliative care and hospice care for those in the final stages of terminal illness.
Improved education and training of physicians in pain management, together with appropriate diagnosis and treatment for depression, would go a long way toward eliminating calls for suicide among the sick and the dying.
It’s the positive, compassionate, caring way to go.