Love, Compassion, and Faith. That was the theme of Compassion & Choices New York’s first-ever faith gathering held outside of the Senate Lobby at the New York State Capitol Building in Albany on Valentine’s Day. Religious leaders of different faiths 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.
“I have often been amazed at the dignity with which death is faced. However, too many times I have been appalled at the needless suffering” those who are dying undergo, said Rev. Dr. Richard S. Gilbert, a retired Unitarian Universalist Minister from Rochester, who opened the event. “The manner in which one faces death says a great deal about how one lives life. For me death is not a punishment – not a cruel fate from which we need rescue, but part and parcel of life – a natural and necessary part of it. . . . Sometimes the greatest reverence for life is to end human suffering. That is why I support medical aid-in-dying legislation.”
“In my community, I have seen far too many people suffering from terminal illness face the end of their lives without access to all the options and choices that could have eased their passage,” said Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green, Jr., Senior Pastor, Mount Neboh Baptist Church of Harlem and President, Mobilizing Preachers & Communities. “Everyone deserves to die with dignity, and dying with dignity means something different to all of us. The law should support us in choosing whatever option is right for us at the end of our lives.”
Reverends Gilbert and Green joined fourteen additional diverse religious leaders, including a range of Jewish, Unitarian, Episcopalian and Baptist leaders, as well as a dozen advocates from the capital region to call on New York lawmakers to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act under consideration in the New York State Legislature.
Father Luis Barrios, Episcopalian Priest in Charge, Holyrood Episcopal Church/Iglesia Episcopal Santa Cruz, Upper West Side, Manhattan, powerfully stated: “My God is a God of love and compassion. A God who would not abandon a dying person who is suffering, and refuse that person the means to die peacefully. I believe that our state should adopt a law that would allow terminally ill New Yorkers to die without suffering, in whatever way is consistent with their own individual faith, values, and beliefs.”
Supporters held signs and listened as faith leaders And New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) inspired the crowd with her commitment to championing the bill and bringing medical aid in dying to New Yorkers.
Corinne Carey, New York Campaign Director for Compassion & Choices added: “The Medical Aid in Dying Act safeguards freedom of religion for New Yorkers because it allows all of us to make our own decisions based on our own faith and beliefs. Authorizing this important end-of-life option will not jeopardize the rights of those who believe that aid in dying is wrong for them because of their faith beliefs; however, denying the right to seek aid in dying because some object on the basis of faith would infringe on the rights of those who do not share those religious beliefs.”
After the gathering, participants dispersed to meet with lawmakers to encourage them to support the Medical Aid in Dying Act.
The Legislative Gazette: Bill sponsor says religious support is ‘next step’ for passing aid-in-dying bill
NY State of Politics: Clergy Back Aid In Dying Measures
And finally, Rabbi Deborah Gordon from Troy, NY reflected on the Faith Gathering in a blog post.