We’ll post our newest campaign updates periodically to this page.
The second half of 2017 was a busy time for Compassion & Choices’ New York campaign. Our goals were to broaden the movement for expanding end-of-life options in New York, build support among key members of the New York State legislature; and promote a greater understanding of medical aid in dying among New York doctors. From July through November, our dedicated staff, volunteers, and Action Team leaders traveled the state engaging in a variety of activities to meet those goals.
Our campaign set off in August for the 13-day New York State Fair in Syracuse with an ambitious goal of obtaining 6,000 petition signatures in support of New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act. With the help of fifty volunteers from as far north as Saranac Lake in the North Country to Long Island, we exceeded that goal. We obtained a total of 7,754 signatures on our petition; volunteers spoke with close to 20,000 people at the Fair, distributing C&C literature like our advance planning guide “Your Life, Your Priorities.” Volunteers and staff at the fair were able to connect with elected officials and state leaders like NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, US Senator Chuck Schumer, and Assemblymembers who joined Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on his visit to the Fair on August 31.
On October 5, twelve volunteers joined the New York team at the Capitol in Albany to deliver the petitions signed at the Fair to Alphonso David, counsel to NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo. Mr. David met each of our supporters and listened to them share their stories about the importance of passing Medical Aid in Dying in 2018 and urge the Governor’s support. Volunteers included a North Country resident who told of her sister’s use of Vermont’s aid in dying law. A story about her aired on several of the local NPR stations in the region. That evening, NY’s Campaign Director Corinne Carey, Dr. David Pratt, and Gene Hughes, were featured on Capital Tonight talking about the campaign.
The New York Court of Appeals issued it’s ruling on the aid-in-dying case Myers v. Schneiderman on September 7, ruling against the plaintiffs who claimed a state constitutional right to medical aid in dying. In short, the Court found that there was no fundamental right to aid in dying in New York State, and that the legislature had a rational basis for prohibit doctors’ helping dying patients to end their lives.
Compassion & Choices issued the following statement shortly after the ruling: “While we were supportive of the plaintiffs in this case, now we urge our legislature and our governor honor the wishes of more than three-quarters of their constituents by enacting a law in 2018 authorizing medical aid in dying as an option for terminally ill adults to end unbearable suffering. Our job is to educate them that while a very low percentage of terminally ill New Yorkers will utilize this option, similar laws in six other states have improved end-of-life care for many dying people, by spurring conversations about all end-of-life care options, resulting in better utilization of hospice, pain control and palliative care.”
On September 14, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill, H.R. 3354, with an amendment by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (Md.) to repeal D.C.’s Death with Dignity Act. Congress had a chance to repeal the law in February 2017 during a 30-day legislative review period, but that effort failed. Representative Harris has been trying again by using the appropriations process to strip DC residents of their newly-won end-of-life options; to succeed, his resolution requires Senate action before the current continuing resolution to fund the government expires on Dec. 8.
In response to the efforts of those in DC who would take away the autonomy of Washington, D.C. residents who overwhelmingly support medical aid in dying, supporters in New York reached out to their representatives in Congress to ask them to vote “no” should they be asked to consider any action that would repeal the DC law. Terminally ill supporters, those who lost family members after needlessly painful deaths, and supporters who simply want to ensure that everyone has choices at the end of life met with representatives from Senators Schumer and Gillibrand’s offices, and sent hundreds of emails to House representatives voicing their opposition to the Harris amendment.
Throughout the summer and the fall, supporters from over a dozen legislative districts met with lawmakers who have not yet taken a position on the Medical Aid in Dying Act in Syracuse, Long Island, Brooklyn, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and the capital region. In addition to sharing stories of the needlessly painful deaths of loved ones and talking about the desire for autonomy at the end of life, lawmakers also heard about the success of the first six months of implementation of California’s End of Life Option Act and how it’s improved end-of-life care for everyone in that state.
Our campaign staffed tables at the Black Arts and Cultural Festival on August 5 at the Empire State Plaza and the Hispanic Heritage Festival on September 23, both in Albany; screened the award-winning film How to Die in Oregon in Ithaca and Mt. Kisko; and hosted a panel discussion and a screening of Atul Gawande’s PBS segment “Being Mortal” at Judson Memorial Church in New York City.
In our continuing work to build support among doctors for medical aid in dying, the New York campaign sponsored and spoke at the monthly meeting of the First District Branch Meeting of the combined medical societies of the City of New York. Corinne Carey addressed a group of 30 physician leaders of the medical societies at the headquarters of the Queens Medical Society on September 28. The outreach was conducted in anticipation of a survey that the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) has agreed to conduct of its own doctors this fall.
C&C New York attended the StateWide Senior Action Council’s annual convention on October 11 and 12 in Saratoga, New York. Members of the organization traveled to the event from across the state to hear speakers discuss issues that affect seniors. The group reaffirmed its support for Medical Aid in Dying when it adopted its 2018 legislative agenda.
Remembering lost loved ones and discussing what it means to die with dignity was the theme of our Day of the Dead/Dia De Los Muertos gathering in Brooklyn at the Douglass Public House on November 2. Attendees wrote letters to their Assembly representatives to urge them to support the Medical Aid in Dying Act. The event was featured in the Brooklyn Eagle.
New York’s League of Women Voters hosted several events across the state exploring the issue of medical aid in dying, and Compassion & Choices New York participated in events from the tip of Long Island with a panel discussion hosted by the League of Women Voters of Southampton, to a discussion with member in the far-western Chautauqua County. Our campaign will continue to work with regional League chapters to promote public dialogue about medical aid in dying.
In partnership with Evergreen Health, a large community-based healthcare system in Buffalo, the New York campaign premiered a new community workshop on November 14 entitled “Wishes & Values at Life’s End: Getting the Care you Want and Deserve at the End of Life.” The workshop offered participants tools to complete advance planning directives, discussed C&C’s new Truth in Treatment initiative, and outlined the various end-of-life options currently authorized in New York State. Representatives from Hospice Buffalo discussed what hospice has to offer Western New Yorkers, and Dr. Robert Milch, founder of Buffalo’s first hospice program provided closing remarks.
As we look to 2018, the New York campaign will be focused on highlighting the voices of our diverse supporters from across the state; working with healthcare providers to build support for expanding end-of-life options; and demonstrate to legislative leaders in Albany the overwhelming public support for the Medical Aid in Dying Act. To join our campaign in these efforts, click here.
As always, we encourage those who support our campaign to make sure they sign our petition to New York lawmakers; join a local Action Team to learn about regional activities; follow our daily work on Facebook; and check our listing of upcoming events.
Despite tremendous progress made by advocates this Spring, the New York State legislature adjourned for 2017 without taking action on the Medical Aid in Dying Act. Lawmakers will return in January 2018, and its up to us to grow our movement between now and then to demonstrate that New Yorkers believe strongly that we should have the same right to avoid unnecessary suffering at the end of life that those in 6 other states and Washington, DC now have.
Our campaign held or participated in dozens of events across the state, signing up new supporters and bringing in new volunteers. We screened the film How to Die in Oregon in libraries and community venues across the state, and engaged in thoughtful dialogue with supporters and opponents alike
We lost a brilliant and thoughtful supporter, Jim Wiggins, who passed away in Syracuse. Jim penned an opinion piece that appeared in the Syracuse Post Standard that made the case for aid in dying as he and his wife Betsy both faced cancer after witnessing painful deaths in their families. The Wiggins’ advocacy resonated with Assemblymember Pamela Harris, one of the newest co-sponsors of the Medical Aid in Dying Act. Assemblymember Harris told Compassion & Choices that, in addition to personal contemplation and study of opponents’ and supporters’ claims, it was personal contact with constituents like the Wiggins family that persuaded her to support the bill.
When a major snowstorm paralyzed much of the northeast for a few days, our volunteers answered our call for a “Snow Day Action” where they called hundreds of supporters in key legislative districts who were all stuck at home, urging them to call their lawmakers on the Assembly Health Committee to support the bill.
We worked with the surviving partner of Jay Kallio, a strong supporter who passed away in September, to release a short video about his work to advocate for aid in dying, and his wish for a peaceful death. The video recounts the tragic reality that though Jay received end-of-life care at a top NYC hospital, he died in agonizing pain–precisely the death he feared. The video was featured in a major news story that ran in the New York Daily News.
In April, we organized a panel and staffed and exhibit table at the Hospice & Palliative Care Association of New York State (HPCANYS) annual conference in Saratoga Springs. The panel spoke to experiences in handling requests for medical aid in dying and featured Dr. Timothy Quill from the University of Rochester School of Medicine, Dr. Diana Barnard from the University of Vermont Medical Center, and Ann Jackson, former director of the Oregon Hospice Association.
Our campaign welcomed the news that the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) voted at its annual House of Delegates meeting in April in favor of a resolution calling on the Society to survey their members on their attitudes towards medical aid in dying; shortly thereafter, the New York State Public Health Association voted to support the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
More than 100 people joined us in Albany on May 9 for our annual Lobby Day, which featured three strong women advocates who told deeply personal stories about why New York needs to act swiftly to authorize medical aid in dying. Former Republican Assemblymember Janet Duprey made her first return trip to Albany that day to talk to her colleagues about the legislation, sharing the touching stories about the deaths of both of her parents and why they move her to support the bill.
Despite these efforts, the bill did not garner the needed support among members of the Assembly Health Committee to move the bill through that committee. The legislature adjourned on June 21 without taking any action on the bill.
Within a week of the legislature’s departure from Albany, our campaign received welcome news that the New York State Academy of Family Physicians voted to endorse medical aid in dying as a legitimate end-of-life option at its annual Congress of Delegates meeting. Several days later, the California Department of Public Health issued the first report to the legislature on implementation of the state’s new End of Life Option Act. The report confirmed that the law was working as intended, allowing those who were dying to avoid unnecessary suffering. The report is sure to help lawmakers in New York who are on the fence and looking to California for evidence that a diverse and populous state can implement and aid-in-dying law that works for all of its residents.
Our campaign begins the summer with three important goals:
1. Increase the number and diversity of our supporters. To that end, we’ll be planning events in cities and towns across the state, from Western New York to Long Island. But we can’t do it without your help. If you know of a community center, a library, or another prominent venue in your community where you’d like to see a screening of the award-winning film “How to Die in Oregon” or the Frontline special “Being Mortal,” or a panel discussion on the Medical Aid in Dying Act, please contact us and we’ll work with you to make it happen. We’ll also be back at the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse from August 23 through September 4. If you’ve never been to the Fair, please consider joining us and spending an hour or two helping to staff our table, where we’ll be collecting signatures. [link to sign-up page for State Fair: ] Governor Cuomo will be at Fair on August 24, Governor’s Day, and we’re looking for supporters to join us so we can demonstrate the strength of our movement with a highly visible presence at the Fair. Lower Hudson Valley Action Team leader Laura Kelly created a terrific video about our work at the State Fair that can be viewed on Facebook.
2. Build support among key members of the New York State legislature. The most powerful kind of work to pass legislation happens when constituents meet with their elected representatives in person in their home districts. Compassion & Choices New York will be working with groups of constituents in a dozen key legislative districts this summer, supporting voters who may have never gone on a lobby visit before to help them tell their stories to the people who represent them in Albany. If you haven’t yet met face-to-face with your own lawmaker, please get in touch with Amanda Cavanaugh, New York’s campaign organizer, to see how you can join a group in your own area.
3. Promote a greater understanding of medical aid in dying among New York doctors. When MSSNY polls its members in the fall of 2017, we want doctors in New York to understand how medical aid in dying has worked in the states that authorize it, and how giving patients the option improves end-of-life care for everyone. To that end, we’ll be working with doctors across the state to address county medical associations and speak to as many groups of doctors as we can in advance of the survey. We’re asking our supporters to help us by doing one simple thing: Ask Your Doctor. At your next appointment (or if you don’t have one, make one!) simply Ask Your Doctor what he or she thinks about medical aid in dying. We have a handy flier available online that you can use to guide your conversation. After you’ve done that, let us know what your doctor says and we’ll follow up with more information, or talk to your doctor about adding his or her name to our physicians’ letter to the legislature in support of the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
In January 2018, the New York State legislature will reconvene for the second half of it’s two year session. Lawmakers will have 6 short months to take action on the Medical Aid in Dying Act before they adjourn and begin campaigning for re-election in November 2018. Help us lay the groundwork for passage of the bill in 2018 by taking action now. To get involved with any of the activities we’re engaged in, sign up as a volunteer and we’ll be in touch to talk to you about how you can help.
The Medical Aid in Dying Act (S3151/A2383) was re-introduced for the 2017 legislative session, and Compassion & Choices New York thanked the sponsors and rallied supporters with a press conference to launch this year’s campaign to authorize medical aid in dying in the Empire State.
Speaking at the rally alongside legislative sponsors Senator Diane Savino (IDC-Staten Island), Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Chelsea), Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), and Assemblymember and Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried (D-West Village), C&C supporter Susan Rahn told the crowd: “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.”
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.
Meanwhile, around the country efforts are underway to implement newly-passed aid-in-dying laws, and advocates in Washington, D.C. beat back an effort by Congress to block the law that the D.C. City Council passed and the mayor of that city signed into law. As a result, the District of Columbia’s Death with Dignity Act went into effect in mid-February.
Throughout January and February, Compassion & Choices New York has been hard at work building a strong and diverse coalition of supporters for the Medical Aid in Dying Act. Organizations that have signed on in support of the legislation include ACT UP-NY, the Secular Coalition of America-New York Chapter, Voters for Change-ADK, the Rochester Breast Cancer Coalition, Housing Works, Harlem United, End of Life Choices New York, and Mobilizing Preachers & Communities (MPAC). The campaign team has met with new and returning lawmakers to address questions and identify new supporters of the legislation.
The New York campaign partnered with community groups in Cold Springs and Plattsburgh to the award-winning documentary “How To Die In Oregon.” The powerful film follows the lives of terminally ill Oregonians as they consider whether – and when – to take the medication that will allow them to die peacefully. In each location, the film was followed by a discussion about the Medical Aid in Dying Act. If you are interested in arranging a screening of the film with a discussion about the legislation pending in New York, please contact us at [email protected].
A statewide volunteer training webinar for supporters looking to join the campaign was held on January 19. Those who missed the training but want to take action in their own communities to help advance the legislation should contact the campaign at [email protected] to request access to the training from home.
Compassion & Choices New York welcomed a unique opportunity to work with Dr. Haider Warraich, a bright new author and physician who has contributed a number of thought-provoking pieces on death and dying to The New York Times, the Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal. His first book, Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life, was released on February 7. C&C hosted a dinner for a small number of supporters with Dr. Warraich, who shared an excerpt from a forthcoming piece with the group.
On February 8, Dr. Warraich read from his book at the Housing Works Bookstore Café in SoHo, a premiere NYC literary venue. New York campaign director Corinne Carey joined Dr. Warraich onstage to talk about Medical Aid in Dying Act and C&C’s campaign to authorize expanded end-of-life choices in the Empire State.
“Love, Compassion, and Faith” was the theme of the Valentine’s Day Faith Gathering sponsored by Compassion & Choices New York at the New York State Capitol Building in Albany on Valentine’s Day. Religious leaders of from a variety of diverse faith traditions spoke of ministering to dying New Yorkers, and what faith and experience have taught them about the choices we face at the end of life.
In the coming months, we’ll be working with the sponsors of the Medical Aid in Dying Act to move the bill through the requisite Assembly Health and Codes committees before it can be brought the full Assembly floor for a vote by all members. The campaign is calling for all New Yorkers who support the idea that terminally ill adults should have the full range of options available to them at the end of life, including the option of medical aid in dying, to take action by letting their elected officials know how they feel. Click here to send a message to your lawmakers. Those who want to lend some time to the campaign and help mobilize others to take action should sign up to volunteer here.
As always, we encourage those who support our campaign to make sure they sign our petition to New York lawmakers; join a local Action Team to learn about regional activities; follow our daily work on Facebook; and check our listing of upcoming events.
Compassion & Choices New York welcomes the New Year at a time of tremendous growth in our movement to improve care and expand options at the end of life. Colorado became the sixth state to authorize medical aid in dying by ballot initiative in November 2016, and Washington, D.C. is set to become the next jurisdiction that authorizes the practice, after the Mayor signed a measure passed by the D.C. City Council. Polls from across the country are showing vast majorities of people, including people of all faith traditions, who support autonomy at the end of life.
And here in New York, we’ve spent the past six months traveling the state from Long Island to Buffalo, Brooklyn to the North Country, and everywhere in between to help supporters across the state raise their voices to let lawmakers know that they want the same access to comprehensive end-of-life care that so many Americans now have.
Together with a dedicated group of volunteers in Central New York, we spoke with over 6,000 fairgoers at the Great New York State Fair; we gathered thousands of petition signatures and over 4,200 postcards to lawmakers. We showed the film “How to Die in Oregon” and held panel discussions in communities across the state.
Our supporters reached out to over two dozen candidates for state legislative offices with information about aid in dying through our Ask the Candidate campaign, and our Action Teams staffed events at local fairs, malls, and busy transit stops talking to New Yorkers about the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
Our campaign participated in events like the one at Fordham University with professors of theology and pastoral care talking about faith and autonomy at the end of life; and a Community Conversation in Utica sponsored by the Resource Center for Independent Living (RCIL), a disability rights and services organization in the Mohawk Valley. On November 2, we held a first-of-its-kind event on Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, at El Museo del Barrio in Manhattan with Latino advocates for aid in dying to remember those we’ve lost. And, we began working with MPAC-New York (Mobilizing Preachers & Communities) to engage in conversations with people in communities of color about making sure we all get the care we want at the end of our lives.
Lawmakers will return to Albany in early January and reintroduce the Medical Aid in Dying Act in both the Senate and the Assembly. For the next six months that the legislature is in session, our campaign will hold one major event each month in Albany, as well as support local action teams across the state in their own events and activities. We’ll hold a statewide teleconference training for all of our volunteers to give them updates about New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act on January 19. We will also hold a press conference with our supporters and the sponsors of the Medical Aid in Dying Act on January 23 in Albany. On February 14, faith leaders and people of faith from across the state will gather for an Interfaith Gathering on Valentine’s Day at the New York State Capitol. And on June 9, supporters from across the state will travel to Albany for our Spring Lobby Day to talk to lawmakers about why New Yorkers demand access to expanded end-of-life options.
We encourage those who support our campaign to make sure they sign our petition to New York lawmakers; join a local Action Team to learn about regional activities; follow our daily work on Facebook; and check our listing of upcoming events.
In preparation for the 2017 legislative session, our campaign has been hard at work this summer building support for the Medical Aid in Dying Act across the state.
The summer started on a high note on June 19 when the New York State Academy of Family Physicians passed a resolution of neutrality on New York legislation authorizing aid in dying, modeling it’s position on the one taken by the California Medical Association in 2015 which cleared the way for the California legislature to pass the End of Life Option Act.
Our campaign traveled to the North Country and to Poughkeepsie to show the film How to Die in Oregon and hold discussions with supporters; our Action Teams tabled at local summer fairs; our supporters held meetings with lawmakers in their district offices; we met with healthcare providers and the professional associations that represent them; and we began working with a diverse group of clergy leaders to plan activities for Winter 2017.
At the end of August 2016, we will launch a 2-month campaign to introduce ourselves to state legislative candidates in key electoral districts and have our supporters ask them if they support medical aid in dying.
We’ve also launched a postcard campaign so that lawmakers are hearing from our supporters throughout the year. We’re asking all of our supporters across the state to send postcards to both their Assemblymembers and Senators asking them to support the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
Our campaign ends its summer work with a table at New York’s State Fair in Syracuse where 30 dedicated volunteers—including doctors, nurses, terminally ill supporters, and people living with disabilities—are engaging with hundreds of fairgoers to answer their questions about medical aid in dying and the legislation pending in Albany, and asking them to sign postcards and our petition to New York lawmakers.
As we enter the fall season and prepare for 2017 legislative session, we’re looking to build the strength of our Action Teams, where supporters organize their own activities in cooperation with the statewide campaign, recruit supportive doctors to help us enlist the support of professional healthcare associations, and connect with supporters willing to share their stories about why they support aid in dying.
What is the status of the legislation in New York?
Over the course of the 2016 legislative session, Compassion & Choices worked with the sponsors of two bills that had been pending in the legislature since Feb. 2015 (the End of Life Options Act and the Patient Self-Determination Act) to reach agreement on a unified bill. That bill, the Medical Aid in Dying Act (A.10059/S.7579), was introduced on May 10, 2016 at a press conference that kicked off C&C’s Spring Lobby Day. The legislation provides that a terminally ill, mentally capable adult can request life-ending medication from a doctor that the person can take at a time of his or her choosing, or never, should suffering become unbearable, so long as she or he can self-administer it. The Medical Aid in Dying Act was passed by the Assembly Health Committee on May 23, 2016 on a vote of 14-11. The NYS legislature adjourned for 2016 on June 18.
Does the Medical Aid in Dying Act have to be reintroduced in the new 2-year legislative cycle beginning January 2017?
Yes. The Medical Aid in Dying Act will have to be reintroduced with a new bill number for the 2017-2019 legislative session. It will have to be passed by the Health Committee again and then the Assembly Codes Committee before being sent to the floor of the Assembly for a vote. The bill also needs to be passed by the relevant Senate committees (Health & Codes) before reaching the Senate floor.
What is C&C NY doing between now and when the lawmakers return to Albany in January 2017?
The New York campaign is working through the Summer and the Fall to garner support for the Medical Aid in Dying Act among influential statewide organizations, faith leaders, and healthcare professionals. If you know a doctor, a faith leader, or an organization that might support our campaign to authorize medical aid in dying in New York State, we need to hear from you. We have sign-on letters for each of these groups and would be happy to work with our supporters to share those tools.
In addition, our 50,000 supporters through the state are working on four fronts for the next six months:
We’re also going to be staffing an information and petition-gathering table at The Great New York State Fair in Syracuse, New York from August 25-September 5. Please email Amanda at [email protected] to sign up to attend the fair. We’ll provide a free training to volunteers who sign up to join us.
Stay tuned……we’re holding a statewide volunteer training in October 2016 for those who want to get more involved in our campaign.