The New York Assembly health committee recently held the first of two meetings on a proposed legislation that would allow some terminally-ill individuals with less than six-months to live the option to use medication to die in their sleep in cases where their suffering is unbearable. The committee members heard testimony from a variety of individuals including patients and their families, health care providers, legal experts, medical ethicists and religious leaders.
The committee’s exploration comes in the wake of a ruling by the New York Court of Appeals last year that ruled against three terminally-ill patients asserting they had a Constitutional right to die under their own conditions. The petitioners asked the Court of Appeals to shield their doctors from criminal charges in cases where physicians prescribe patients a lethal medication to end their lives.
New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act, sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Sen. Diane Savino, would permit terminally-ill patients deemed mentally fit to end their lives by using medication provided to them by a physician. Proponents of the law assert that doctor-assisted dying is oftentimes the only alternative to a long and agonizing death, during which the patient may experience complete loss of their bodily functions and mental faculties.
Iterations of the law have been introduced in the New York Legislature but it have not passed either chamber, leaving legislative leaders reluctant to embrace the issue and build on existing laws that allow adults to refuse life-saving treatment. Speaking in support of the bill, Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried touted rising interest as the stimulus for exploring the merits of the initiative.
On the other hand, critics have labeled the bill as doctor-assisted suicide, claim the measure would pit the terminally, their families, and medical experts against religious organizations and advocates for the disabled. Speaking on behalf of those living with disabilities, some groups assert that legalizing aid in dying bolsters the belief that those without control of their functions have not worth living.
Oregon became the first state to legalize medical aid in dying over 20-years ago, followed by Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado Washington, D.C, and Hawaii. New York currently allows patients to implement Advanced Directives allowing individuals the right to leave instructions to doctors and family members that they be taken of life-sustaining care like feeding and breathing tubes and other life support systems in certain circumstances.