The Death with Dignity Act gained national attention when it Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old woman suffering from an incurable brain tumor, chose to end her life with the help of a lethal dose of medication. Since then, a national debate has resurfaced about terminally ill patient’s ability to decide when, not if, they are going to die. Currently, the Death with Dignity Act has been passed in California, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, with proposals in many more states, including New York.
In May 2016, The New York State Assembly Health Committee passed the Medical Aid in Dying Act, by a 14 to 11 vote. The bill is a combination of two previous bills that have tried to pass through New York legislature, the Patient Self Determination Act and the New York Death with Dignity Act. Proponents of the bill are pleased to see the two bills combined into one and now passed through to both houses, making for a more unified message. While opponents of the Act view this end of life measure as suicide, under the Act, it finds that ending one’s life under this law is not suicide. Many supporting the Act refer to it as a more gentle way of dying, since death is in fact certain.
The Medical Act in Dying Act does have strict requirements that must be met in order to qualify for these end of life measures, the patient must:
- Be 18 years old and a New York resident,
- Is mentally capable of making their own healthcare decisions,
- The practicing physician can order a psychological evaluation if he has any question as to the mental competency of the patient
- Has a terminal illness that will result in death in the next six months.
Once these criteria have been met, the patient must also follow with more guidelines.
- The patient must make the written request to their practicing doctor, and sign in front of two qualified, adult witnesses.
- The practicing doctor and another doctor must make the same diagnosis and prognosis of the terminal illness independently.
- The practicing doctor ensures that the patient is not being unduly influenced by any outside parties and the form was not forged in anyway.
- The practicing doctor informs of any reasonable alternatives that the patient could explore in lieu of aid in dying, such as prescription medication to keep them comfortable.
This Act would require only voluntary participation by the doctor, no doctor can be forced to prescribe the legal dose. It also insulates the doctors from civil and criminal liability or discipline by any medical professional board that does not agree with the procedure. Lastly, it ensures that the patient’s family still is able to receive life insurance from the patient, since it is not considered suicide or assisted suicide under the law.