On May 9, Compassion & Choices New York was joined by over 100 supporters from across the state in calling on the New York State Legislature to do what the public wants and pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act (S.3151/A.2383). Legislators, advocates and people who have been personally affected by the death of a terminally ill loved one who died without access to medical aid in dying, made their voices heard and shared their compelling stories at a press conference held in the Capitol Building.
“New Yorkers overwhelmingly support medical aid in dying and now the legislature needs to catch up to the public,’ said Corinne Carey, Compassion & Choices New York Campaign Director. “Lawmakers seeking reelection next year should be paying attention to what their constituents want, and they should act to make sure that New York joins six other states and the District of Columbia in authorizing medical aid in dying before Election day 2018.”
“I want to live more than anything else. I want to see my son graduate college, I want to see him finish medical school, I want to someday hold my grandchildren,” said Rochester resident Susan Rahn, who was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer four years ago. “What I don’t want is to suffer and be in uncontrollable pain while my body shuts down for what could be weeks and I don’t want my son and my family to have to watch me go through that. Medical aid in dying is a choice I should be able to make for myself and for my family.”
“I cared for a patient who took his own life with a shotgun to end his suffering from COPD. His violent death had a profoundly negative impact on his family, and it changed my understanding of suffering. It strongly influenced my choice to become an advocate for medical aid in dying,” said David Pratt, MD, former Schenectady County Commissioner of Public Health Services, and a palliative care provider. “New Yorkers should not have to take desperate and violent measures when pain and suffering become too much to bear. They should have access to the peaceful and sound option of medical aid in dying.”
Lindsay Wright, wife of Youssef Cohen, a professor of politics at New York University, who died from incurable mesothelioma, said: “My husband died last year after fighting an incurable disease for four years. He wanted to die at home, surrounded by friends and family. But he knew he couldn’t have full control over his own death in New York. We moved to Oregon so that Youssef could take advantage of their aid in dying law. New Yorkers with terminal illnesses deserve to have the right to choose the kind of death they want here in New York. I urge our legislators to come together now to pass medical aid in dying legislation so that no New Yorker is forced to do what we did – leave their family and friends behind to die somewhere else. Make us all proud to be New Yorkers.”
Janet Green, who lost her partner of 26 years, Harry, one year ago today, May 9, 2016, said: “Harry loved life, with a passion for hunting, fishing and camping. Even after being diagnosed with brain cancer eight years ago, he continued to try do things he loved. In February 2016 he fell. Diagnostic testing revealed bone cancer. He realized his life would continue to be painful. At that point, he wanted me to shoot him. Of course, I would not.
“Hospice came to our home and provided support for me, and pain medication for Harry. They were wonderful but it was not enough. His pain often broke through and became unbearable. He often said, ‘please help me die.’ It was agonizing to watch the man I love suffer so much. I believe terminally ill adults should have legal options that help them die without prolonged suffering, and that’s why I’m asking lawmakers to support the Medical Aid in Dying Act,” Green said.
Former Assemblymember Janet L. Duprey (R-Clinton/Franklin/St. Lawrence Counties), said: “I am so supportive of the Medial Aid in Dying legislation, I’m returning to Albany for the first time since I retired at the end of 2016. Although I’ve always preferred to keep my personal life private, I am sharing the story about my parents’ suffering during their last days. If legislators will consider the agony of watching loved ones die slow tortuous deaths, they will realize the importance of allowing people to have the ability to choose their own destiny.”
Advocates then made in-person visits to their legislators to discuss why their support is crucial in passing medical aid-in-dying legislation.
There is a steady groundswell of support building for medical aid in dying in New York. The Medical Society of the State of New York recently voted to authorize a survey of physicians on medical aid in dying and the New York State Public Health Association has now endorsed the legislation, as has the New York Civil Liberties Union. These organizations have now joined groups like the Statewide Senior Action Council, ACT UP-New York, Harlem United, the Rochester Breast Cancer Coalition, Mobilizing Preachers and Communities, and Housing Works in support.
“It’s hard to talk about death and dying, but our work is to sit down with each lawmaker one-on-one to hear their questions and concerns about this legislation. New Yorkers are counting on their lawmakers to face this difficult issue with a clear understanding of what the bill would do, not clouded by misinformation or distortion,” Carey said. “We are confident that groundswell of public support will be well represented in the Legislature.”