Compassion & Choices Intensifies Campaign to Pass New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act in 2023

Parents of Ayla Rain Eilert, Who Would Have Turned 25 Today: “No parent should have to witness their child suffer pointlessly while begging for help to die.”

Compassion & Choices President & CEO Kim Callinan today vowed to intensify the campaign to pass New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act in 2023 and demand that legislators either support the bill or explain why they are turning their backs on their dying, suffering constituents at a Manhattan news conference today. 

Monona Yin speaking at NYC news conference

Monona Yin from Brooklyn speaking at NYC news conference

“With an intensified campaign by countless advocates across New York, amazing legislative champions like Assemblywoman Paulin and Senator Hoylman, and all the resources Compassion & Choices can bring to bear, 2023 must be the year Empire State lawmakers allow terminally ill New Yorkers, suffering in their final days and weeks, to seek this compassionate option,” Callinan said.

Medical aid in dying allows a terminally ill, mentally capable adult with six months or less to live to request a prescription from their doctor for medication they can take when their suffering becomes too great to bear and die peacefully. Ten states, including New York neighbors New Jersey and Vermont, as well as Washington, D.C., authorize medical aid in dying. A recent Marist poll shows strong support for medical aid in dying among New York state voters, 59-36 percent, including majority support across the geographic, political and racial spectrum.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Westchester), lead sponsor of the Medical Aid in Dying Act, said: “The horrific suffering I witnessed my sister endure at the end of her life is something that has remained with me every day since her death. So are the gut-wrenching stories I’ve heard from countless New Yorkers about how their loved ones were forced to endure horrible deaths. Nobody should be forced to watch their child, parent, spouse, or loved one suffer as they die, wishing they could just close their eyes and die peacefully. My commitment to my sister, my constituents, and all New Yorkers is to work tirelessly to ensure that the Medical Aid in Dying Act is signed into law by Governor Hochul in 2023.”

Daren and Amy Eilert, the parents of Ayla Rain Eilert, a Manhattan ballet dancer who died in agony from metastatic tongue cancer last Spring, said: “Imagine your 23-year-old daughter living her dream as a ballet dancer, painter, and certified yoga instructor in the world’s greatest city, New York. Then, less than a year later, she dies an agonizing death at age 24 from an aggressive tongue cancer that spread like wildfire throughout her body, despite receiving the best treatment and palliative care available. That’s what happened to our Ayla. Today would have been her 25th birthday.

“Ayla’s treatment started with chemotherapy and radiation last November. By her 24th birthday – a year ago today – Ayla had lost her voice and she could no longer walk a quarter mile from her apartment to the hospital. By February, she didn’t have the strength to brush her teeth or walk to the bathroom. Her athletic body had shrunk from 130 to 87 pounds.

“Ayla Rain Eilert, died April 2 without the one end-of-life care option she begged for in the last weeks of life that could have allowed her to pass peacefully: medical aid in dying. If Ayla had been afforded the option of medical aid in dying, she could have avoided weeks of needless suffering and those last excruciating moments,” Daren Eilert said. Ayla’s mother Amy added: “No parent should have to witness their child suffer pointlessly while begging for help to die.”

Rabbi Rachel Timoner, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is also the daughter of Eli Timoner, who decided to use medical aid in dying, as authorized by California’s End of Life Option Act, to peacefully end his suffering at age 92. Rabbi Timoner and her family are featured in the new documentary, Last Flight Home.

Rabbi Timoner said: “ “Once my father knew that he was at the end of his life, he desperately wanted to be able to take matters into his own hands. California’s End of Life Option Act was a gift to him and to our family, enabling us to surround him with love as he said goodbye.”

Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) said: “I strongly believe that those dying from cancer or other terminal illness should have the opportunity to die in a way that is consistent with their faith, values, and beliefs. Passing the Medical Aid in Dying Act will not change the equation for those who wouldn’t decide to use this option. But it will allow those who want this compassionate option to die on their own terms, peacefully and free from suffering. All New Yorkers should be able to choose their own path at the end of their lives. 2023 is the year we make it happen.”

Monona Yin from Brooklyn is the daughter of Fay Hoh Yin, who was a tireless advocate for medical aid in dying while she endured her incurable lymphoma, before dying in 2020. “My amazing mother, Fay Hoh Yin, died in my Brooklyn home after a six-year struggle with lymphoma. Mom worked very hard to stay alive, enduring multiple courses of chemo, radiation and transfusions. By the end, Mom was skin and bones, struggling to breathe. She couldn’t understand why she should be made to suffer to the bitter end.

“My mother did not find suffering to be ennobling, nor honorable. She thought it pure misery, even with the best palliative care. I wouldn’t ask anyone to consider the end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying; it’s an individual decision. But I ask our state legislators to stop blocking people like my mother from having this option and the peace of mind that comes with it. Enough is enough. Pass it in 2023.”

Stacey Gibson from Garrison said: “I have advocated for medical aid in dying since 2015, in honor of my husband, Sid Gibson. Sid died at the age of 68 from a degenerative neurological disease similar to ALS. While no death is welcome, Sid’s was especially difficult. If medical aid in dying had been available, his final days could have been less traumatic, more peaceful and truly representative of the glorious life he led.

“I have survived cancer twice and now face a third cancer. You may not think I’m lucky, but I am. I have received extraordinary care and have reaped the benefits of today’s amazing medical advances.  But I don’t know what lies ahead. What I do know is that I want access to medical aid in dying should I need it. It’s time for legislators to stop the suffering and pass the bill. Before more of their constituents are forced to suffer.”

Dr. Jeff Gardere, ‘America’s Psychologist,’ said: “As a clinical psychologist, ordained minister, and New Yorker, I have talked to and counseled terminally ill people and their families. None of these patients wants to die. Medical aid in dying is not suicide, and authorizing New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act will allow qualified terminally ill adults to consult with their own trusted healthcare professionals to make decisions that are best for them and their families at the end of their lives.

“There are too many terminally ill, imminently dying New Yorkers who are unnecessarily suffering at the end of life. There are too many New Yorkers who passed away advocating for passage of this law. We owe it to all of them to provide an end-of-life care option that offers peace, comfort, and dignity. Legislators, 2023 is the year. Get it done.”

Corinne Carey, senior New York campaign director of Compassion & Choices, said: “We need the Legislature to catch up to the public. New Yorkers strongly support providing an option for medical aid in dying to ease suffering for those who are terminally ill and will soon die – often in pain, despite the best efforts of hospice and palliative care. While support in the Legislature has grown over the last several years, we are intensifying our campaign to make 2023 the year lawmakers stop turning their backs on New Yorkers suffering at the end of life.

“In the last month, we’ve held events across the North Country, throughout Western and Central New York. Today we’re in New York City. After the holidays, we’ll be on Long Island. And then we’re coming to Albany and we won’t stop until the Medical Aid in Dying Act is the law in New York.”

Last month, The Adirondack Daily Enterprise published a column from Raymond Stark of Tupper Lake. An 86-year-old Veteran now in hospice care and a lifelong Republican, Mr. Stark wrote, “Now I’m 86 and I’m dying. I strongly believe I should have the ability to decide what the end of my life looks like. It’s not for someone else to tell me I have to stay in this bed waiting around for the next heart attack. I want to go quickly and painlessly.”

“If Mr. Stark lived in Vermont – 90 miles from where he’s in a hospice bed – he would be eligible for medical aid in dying, an option he desperately wants. It’s because of Raymond Stark and the memory of Bob Thomas and so many other brave New Yorkers that we will not stop until the Legislature passes the Medical Aid in Dying Act and Governor Hochul signs it into law,” Carey said.

The Medical Aid in Dying Act is supported by numerous advocacy groups in the state including, among others: the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, New York Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters of New York State, StateWide Senior Action Council, NYS Public Health Association, Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, NOW-NY, ACT UP NY, Harlem United, Latino Commission on AIDS, Latinos for Healthcare Equity, the WESPAC Foundation, and SAGE NY, which advocates for and provides healthcare and other services to LGBT elders. You can see many memos in support from these and other organizations here.

From mid-November to mid-January, Compassion & Choices is conducting a statewide, grassroots tour to highlight the importance of this issue in every region of the state and in legislators’ home districts. Since November 16, news conferences have been held in Lake Placid, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. More information on medical aid in dying and the New York campaign can be found on Compassion & Choices’ website, Facebook or Twitter.