Compassion & Choices New York today presented Governor Andrew Cuomo with petitions signatures from more than 7,500 New Yorkers in support of New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act (A.2383/S.3151) acquired during the New York State Fair.
The petition reads, “I am a New Yorker who attended the Great New York State Fair and I believe that terminally ill, mentally capable adults should have the right to request and receive medication that they can take to achieve a peaceful death.”
“We spent 13 days at the State Fair, joined by scores of volunteers from every part of New York, and talked to more than 20,000 fairgoers,” said Corinne Carey, Compassion & Choices New York Campaign Director. “It was an amazing and rewarding experience hearing from New Yorkers from every region, party, race, and religion; men and women; young and old; people living with disabilities; and people from different socioeconomic strata. We heard incredibly moving stories from these New Yorkers; they shared with us their experiences with relatives, friends and loved ones who suffered painful and difficult deaths.
“Many people expressed their surprise at seeing us at the State Fair, a place where, thankfully, death is not a typical topic of conversation. However, thousands spent time talking with us about this important but difficult subject, and thousands more took informational brochures because they wanted to learn more about medical aid in dying,” Carey said.
New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act, sponsored by Senator Diane Savino (IDC-Staten Island) and Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Westchester), would give mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable so they can die peacefully in their sleep.
“We know that New Yorkers overwhelmingly support medical aid in dying. But as important as it is for lawmakers running for re-election next year to know that more than three-quarters of New Yorkers support the issue, it’s far more moving to hear people share their personal experiences,” Carey said. “I have little doubt that if only a small fraction of the stories I heard at the State Fair could be heard by every member of the Senate and Assembly, this bill would be passed with overwhelming bipartisan support tomorrow.”
Carey said that copies of the petitions would also be presented to leaders of the five legislative conferences.
Dr. David Pratt, MD, MPH, former Medical Director of Care Choices in Schenectady, said, “I met many people at the New York State Fair who told me how their loved ones died – often with prolonged pain and suffering despite the care of dedicated health professionals. The families felt powerless. As a physician I know that there were patients I cared for at the end of their lives who would have been grateful for the option provided by medical aid in dying.”
Dr. Yale Rosen, a pathologist from Long Island, said, “Several people who identified themselves as nurses were enthusiastic about signing the petition, saying they were acutely aware of the need for this legislation based upon what they had seen and experienced personally while working at their jobs. Others who signed spoke of friends or relatives who had died and who could have benefited from medical aid in dying.”
Susan Rahn from Rochester, who was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer four years ago, said, “My faith in humanity was somewhat restored volunteering at the Fair. People who weren’t familiar with medical aid in dying were genuinely interested hearing about it and others who knew, were eager to sign the petition. Many hugged me as they walked away while wishing me well. Many who didn’t agree and weren’t going to sign, heard me out and some ended up signing as they realized the option wasn’t about what their opinion may be but how it could benefit others.”
Kathleen Haggerty of Buffalo said, “I volunteered after driving to the Fair from Buffalo. It was very gratifying to meet so many people who understand the importance of this choice for the people of New York.”
Victoria Raymond of Syracuse said, “I loved it when I asked someone if they wanted to sign and they eagerly did so, saying they work in the medical field and know this is necessary. So many others said they wished this was an option when a relative or friend was dying.”
“The State Fair only reinforced the obvious: there is a steady groundswell of support building for medical aid in dying in New York,” Carey said. “Last spring, the Medical Society of the State of New York voted to survey physicians on medical aid in dying, and we look forward to seeing the results of that survey. If New York doctors are reflective of physicians nationally, we know there will be overwhelming support.
“The New York State Academy of Family Physicians and the New York State Public Health Association have endorsed the legislation, as has the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Statewide Senior Action Council, ACT UP-New York, Harlem United, the Rochester Breast Cancer Coalition, Mobilizing Preachers and Communities, and Housing Works,” Carey said.
“We continue to talk to legislators and build legislative support. I look forward to next year being the year New Yorkers finally having the right that the citizens of six other states and Washington, DC currently have. New Yorkers want the option of medical aid in dying to be available – although few will ever exercise that option, just knowing it’s there and available will provide comfort to many. I am hopeful that 2018 is the year that state legislators will answer the call of their constituents,” Carey said.