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Medical Aid in Dying Act Introduced for 2017

Susan Rahn – Young Rochester Mother Living with Terminal Breast Cancer – Makes Dramatic Plea for New York to Be 7th State to Legalize Aid in Dying

Compassion & Choices New York today welcomed the reintroduction of the Medical Aid in Dying Act for 2017 (S.3151/A.2383), a bill to give New Yorkers the option to make end-of-life healthcare decisions that are right for them in the final stages of a terminal illness.

The bill’s prime sponsors continue to be Senator Diane Savino (IDC-Staten Island) and Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Westchester). Joining Savino, Paulin and Compassion & Choices New York Campaign Director Corinne Carey at today’s news conference were Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Susan Rahn, a young mother from Rochester living with terminal breast cancer.

The Medical Aid in Dying act was endorsed today by the New York StateWide Senior Action Council, End of Life Choices New York, Mobilizing Preachers & Communities (MPAC), Harlem United, Housing Works, Adirondack Voters for Change, and the Secular Coalition for New York.

If enacted, the Medical Aid in Dying Act would allow New York to join six other states in providing mentally competent, terminally ill adults with the legal right to request a prescription to bring about a peaceful death. Oregon, where aid in dying has been legal for two decades, has been joined by Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, and Colorado. A law to legalize aid in dying has also been passed in Washington, D.C.

“The option to end one’s suffering when facing the final stages of a terminal illness should be a basic human right, and not dependent upon one’s ZIP code,” Savino said. “Patients should not be forced to relocate to another state or to leave the country to control how their lives end. Our bill will enable mentally competent, terminally ill patients to choose to self-administer medication to bring about a peaceful death. I would be the first to fight for someone’s right to exhaust every medical intervention to sustain life. So too will I champion a terminally ill adult’s right to choose to end their suffering in the safe and regulated framework established by our bill.”

“Mentally competent, terminally ill New Yorkers should have the choice whether to end their lives and under what circumstances. The experience from Oregon and other states shows that medical aid in dying is an end of life option that provides comfort to many dying people and their families,” Paulin said. “New Yorkers deserve this right. There is overwhelming public support for it. I look forward to working with my partners in the Assembly and the Senate to make medical aid in dying a reality in New York.”

“This bill is about patient autonomy and dignity,” Gottfried, a co-sponsor of the bill, said. “For over a hundred years, New York law has recognized that adults with mental capacity have the right to refuse life-saving treatment. Morally and legally, they should have the right to end their suffering through medication if that is their own choosing. We had a thoughtful and passionate debate last year when we advanced the bill out of the Health Committee, and I look forward to moving the bill forward again this session towards Assembly passage.”

“More and more states are giving patients facing terminal diagnoses the right to make important end-of-life decisions, including most recently Colorado and Washington, DC,” Hoylman, a co-sponsor, said. “New York needs to join this list by passing the Medical Aid in Dying Act. I hope my colleagues in Albany will pass this important legislation this session.”

“New Yorkers overwhelmingly support aid in dying. While most will never choose aid in dying, they want the option because it provides comfort to those facing pain and suffering at the end of life,” said Corinne Carey, New York Campaign Director for Compassion & Choices. “There are few subjects more difficult to talk about than death and dying; but I believe New York is ready for a public discussion about aid in dying. We owe the sponsors of this bill a debt of gratitude. By helping our state to join six others and providing New Yorkers with the option – and option is the key word – to access medical aid in dying, they have shown a commitment to improving end of life care for all New Yorkers”

Rahn was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer four years ago, and has been fighting the disease ever since. She has a 17-year-old son who is currently a high school senior.

“I do not want to die. I was told that the prognosis for someone with my illness is about 36 months. While I have responded well to treatment, surpassing that prognosis, sadly there is no cure for my illness,” Rahn said. “I have dealt with significant pain and have even taken the same narcotics given in hospice. The best hospice and palliative care most likely won’t relieve my pain and suffering when I run out of treatment options.”

“I don’t want my son to watch me linger, dying in a bed for what could be days or weeks. I won’t allow that memory to erase all the happy memories we share of our time together,” Rahn said. “People don’t have to agree with my choice to have aid in dying as an option but they should respect it. Now is the time for the Legislature and Governor to provide this option for me and for every other New Yorker.”

The 2017 Medical Aid in Dying Act has been updated from last year to (1) clarify the definition of “capacity,” ensuring that a mentally competent, terminally ill adult must be able to communicate his or her request directly to a physician, and (2) require that a report from a mental health professional on the patient’s capacity to request aid in dying must be delivered to both attending and consulting physicians.

Gene Hughes, of the Utica-based Resource Center for Independent Living, said: “At a recent Resource Center for Independent Living Community Conversation on medical aid in dying in Utica, Senator Savino came, listened and responded. The changes in the bill reflect the concerns raised, and that means a great deal to us. These are smart changes. It’s clear that the sponsors care deeply about passing a bill that’s right for New Yorkers. This is that bill.”

Maria Alvarez, Executive Director, New York StateWide Senior Action Council, said: “The membership of New York StateWide Senior Action Council held lively and thorough discussions that spanned two Annual Conventions and chapter meetings throughout the state. After careful deliberation and much discussion, our membership voted to support the aid-in-dying bill. Understanding that it requires steps such as two thorough medical evaluations and that it must be self-administered, this bill is a resource which is available for those who choose to do so.”

Rev. Johnnie Green, Pastor, Mount Neboh Baptist Church, and CEO, MPAC (Mobilizing Preachers & Communities), said: “Preachers across New York spend a great deal of time helping comfort individuals and families during illness and death. We are the ones called to the beside to witness the suffering of dying people and their families. Talking about death and dying, particularly in African American communities, is too often taboo, and we need to change that. Opening up honest conversations about how people want to be cared for at the end of their lives is something we have to do, and that’s why MPAC strongly supports legislation that would allow people the freedom to ask for medical aid in dying.”

Laurie Leonard, Executive Director, End of Life Choices New York, said: “Advances in medical technology have extended our life spans, but they have also caused some people to be trapped in a zone of suffering for their final weeks or months. Every mentally competent, terminally ill adult should have the right to choose a peaceful end to their life.”

Jacquelyn Kilmer, Esq., CEO, Harlem United, said: “Harlem United was born in the basement of a church, where people dying from AIDS could receive support, where they wouldn’t die alone on the streets. While we’ve grown since then into a full-fledged, community-based healthcare and housing provider, we remain committed to that founding ethic. All terminally-ill patients should be empowered to maintain control of their medical care at the end of their lives.”

Charles King, Housing Works President & CEO, said: “This important legislation offers a compassionate way to allow all mentally competent New Yorkers with terminal illness to exercise their autonomy and die peacefully and with dignity. At Housing Works, so many in our community have had the excruciating experience of watching terminally ill loved ones run out of effective treatments, suffer and die unnecessarily painful deaths from AIDS, along the way losing their autonomy and right to self-determination when it’s most needed. Giving terminally ill New Yorkers the ability to choose the time, manner and circumstances of their own deaths is a long overdue basic human right.”

Phyllis Magnus, spokesperson, Adirondack Voters for Change, said: “In public meetings in the Tri-Lakes region, personal testimonies in particular informed our constituency and Adirondack communities on the human costs of prolonging painful deaths, despite the wishes of the dying individual. Three-quarters of over 500 community members responding to a local newspaper poll said ‘yes’ to aid in dying legislation. We wholeheartedly support and continue to work to promote this compassionate legislation.”

John A Wagner, Chair of the Secular Coalition for New York, said: “Recognizing that many New Yorkers suffer unnecessarily at the end of their lives, the Secular Coalition for New York strongly supports passage of the Medical Aid in Dying Act in New York. Spearheaded by Senator Savino, Assemblymember Paulin and other courageous legislators, the bill provides adequate safeguards for patients, their families and health care providers, and would be a great benefit to many New Yorkers. We urge the Legislature and Governor to enact aid in dying in New York.”

A growing number of national organizations representing healthcare professionals have endorsed or taken a neutral position on medical aid in dying because it relieves intolerable suffering, and there is no evidence of abuse or coercion involving this practice. In addition to the American Medical Women’s Association, they include the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, American Academy of Legal Medicine, American Medical Student Association and American Public Health Association.

New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act is closely modeled after Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, which has worked as intended for two decades without a single documented incident of abuse. Aside from New York, legislators in 26 other states have introduced aid-in-dying bills since the death of Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill Californian who moved to Oregon to access its Death with Dignity Act, on Nov. 1, 2014. Congress is reviewing legislation the D.C. City Council approved to authorize this end-of-life care option.