ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Two New York state Assembly members and other advocates of letting the terminally ill end their lives said Tuesday their proposed law would limit suffering and has safeguards to prevent mistakes and abuse.
Opponents, who on Tuesday included the Senate majority leader, aren’t convinced.
Bills pending in the Assembly and Senate since last year are getting a new push in Albany.
Assembly member Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), whose sister died painfully and slowly from cancer in Georgia, said people in that situation should be able to choose a calm, peaceful and dignified end at their chosen time. It would provide doctors and medical facilities immunity from criminal and civil liability.
“We New Yorkers deserve that choice,” Paulin said. The legislation first requires the patient’s doctor to determine that he or she will die within six months and that the patient has the mental capacity to make the decision. Then the patient has to put the request in writing before two witnesses, one who is independent and could get no benefit from the patient’s death, she said.
Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, agreed. For more than a century, New Yorkers have had the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment or any treatment, he said.
“I don’t see any meaningful philosophical, or clinical, or ethical or religious difference between patients saying, `Stop life-sustaining treatment’ — and a patient having the right to say, `I want medication that will enable the suffering and the pain to come to an end,”’ Gottfried said. “I believe every New Yorker has that fundamental human right and New York law should recognize that.”
Dr. Timothy Quill, founding director of the University of Rochester School of Medicine’s palliative care program, said hospice works most of the time, which focuses on pain management, but there are some cases where that’s insufficient and patients want aid in dying. The medications usually used in Oregon, where the practice is legal, are barbiturates and act in a few minutes. “You go to sleep first, then you stop breathing,” he said.
Kathleen Gallagher of the New York State Catholic Conference, which opposes assisted suicide, said there’s a difference between letting a patient die from an underlying illness and giving an overdose of drugs. Other issues are patient depression, physician mistakes about a patient’s time left, and coercion once the medication has been prescribed and is in the patient’s home, she said.
Senate President John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) said Tuesday his immediate feeling is against the bill.
“My visceral reaction is, I don’t like that,” he told reporters. “Obviously we’re literally talking about life and death. Any action, which may include inaction, should be approached cautiously.”
Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) who leads the Senate’s Democratic minority, said Flanagan’s comments suggest the bill won’t pass in the legislative session that runs through June. “I suspect it won’t be getting a full vetting this year,” she said.
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