Buffalo & WNY Advocates Join Compassion & Choices to Demand the State Legislature Pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act in 2023

“No way to explain the feeling of helplessness, fear and anguish watching him suffer”

Compassion & Choices Senior New York Campaign Director Corinne Carey implored state legislators from Western New York and across the state to ease the suffering of too many terminally ill New Yorkers at the end of life by passing the Medical Aid in Dying Act in 2023. Carey was joined at a Buffalo news conference today – on the second leg of a two-month, statewide, grassroots campaign – by the family members of medical aid-in-dying advocates who passed away – suffering – and without that compassionate end-of-life care option in New York. 

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’s 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

Carey said: “Over the last several years, too many New Yorkers – including dozens of advocates who became friends – have suffered at the end of their lives as legislators ignored their pleas to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act. Enough is enough. We are traveling to every corner of the state to make sure legislators know that their constituents are demanding action. Lawmakers must stop turning their backs on New Yorkers suffering at the end of life.”

Buffalo resident Melissa Milch represented her family, particularly her dad, Dr. Robert Milch. Dr. Robert Milch. Robert Milch, a longtime advocate of medical aid in dying, who died from stage 4 metastatic cancer last year with needless suffering because he didn’t have this end-of-life care option. Dr. Milch was co-founder of Hospice Buffalo and dedicated his life to caring for people at the end of their lives. He wrote his last column in support of medical aid in dying just two days before he died.

Buffalo resident Melissa Milch, whose dad, Dr. Robert Milch, died from stage 4 metastatic cancer last year

Buffalo resident Melissa Milch, whose dad, Dr. Robert Milch, died from stage 4 metastatic cancer last year.

“From the day we learned that dad was dying, our family came together. Dad became a hospice patient – cared for by his incredible hospice family and our family. Dad spent his final days writing notes to the grandkids and saying goodbye to family and dear friends. He also phoned lawmakers in a final attempt to convey the critical nature and urgent need to pass medical aid-in-dying legislation. There is no way to explain the feeling of helplessness, fear, and anguish we felt, watching him suffer,” Milch said.

“While my dad’s illness and subsequent death were not avoidable, the needless suffering he and my family endured at the end of his life due to the failure of the Legislature to pass the Medical Aid in Dying bill into law was avoidable,” Milch said. “My hope for legislators is that they never have to consider the option, and my plea for them is to not prohibit others from considering the option when the ravage of terminal disease and suffering are beyond control.”

Buffalo resident Ethan Milich, talking about his mother, Jennifer Milich, who passed away earlier this year, said, “When mom was diagnosed with metastatic kidney cancer and informed of her terminal diagnosis, she was adamant that she didn’t care how much time she had but how that time was spent. She didn’t want to be in pain or suffer. She wanted to be with family and friends, doing the things she loved to do as long as she could. Thankfully, mom fought this aggressive disease longer than any of her doctors thought she would. She met with legislators (via zoom) and talked to them via the news media, urging support for medical aid in dying.

“Horribly, mom spent her last few months in hospice, with no quality of life, often not recognizing family and friends that would come to visit. Her fear of not having a peaceful option came true, leading to a slow, suffering death earlier this year. That’s why I’m continuing mom’s fight to give dying New Yorkers this compassionate option,” Milich said. 

Carey also talked about a dear friend of hers, Buffalo attorney Bernadette Hoppe, an advocate for medical aid in dying, who passed away from cancer three years ago. 

“Bernadette was a friend from law school long before I was even aware of this issue. I was not surprised that Bernadette endured debilitating treatments for her rare cancer with all the strength she had, including multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. In the end, however, even the best hospice and palliative care health team could not keep Bernadette pain-free. Sadly, she suffered at the end for way too long. And she knew that if she only lived in Vermont, she would not have had to endure the needless suffering before she died,” Carey said. “That’s why we will not stop till the Legislature passes the Medical Aid in Dying Act.”

Tomorrow (Wednesday, November 30) at 1 p.m. ET, author Joanne Tubbs Kelly will read from her book, “Walking Him Home: Helping My Husband Die with Dignity,” and discuss the peace that Colorado’s medical aid-in-dying law provided her husband Alan Kelly, when he used the law to die gently from a rare neurodegenerative disease called multiple system atrophy. The book talk will take place at Fitz Books & Waffles, 433 Ellicott St., Buffalo, and is open to the public.

The Medical Aid in Dying Act is supported by numerous advocacy groups in the state including, among others: 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.

More information on medical aid in dying and the New York campaign can be found on Compassion & Choices’ website and Facebook page.