New York senator proposes law to allow terminally ill to seek suicide with doctor support
EXCLUSIVE: Sen. Brad Hoylman of Manhattan is seeking support for a bill that permits a doctor to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill adults who wish to take their own lives. Religious groups are fighting the proposal.
ALBANY — A Manhattan state senator wants to make New York the fifth state to allow assisted suicide for the terminally ill.
Democrat Brad Hoylman said his proposed law would permit doctors to prescribe lethal "medication" to terminally ill adults who want to take their own lives.
In a memo seeking co-sponsors call your state senator and tell them to oppose assisted "suicide" , Hoylman cited the case of Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill California woman who became the public face of the right-to-die movement when she moved to Oregon to end her life under that state's "Death With Dignity Act."
Maynard, who had an aggressive form of brain cancer, took her life on Nov. 1.
“This bill will give capable adults who have been given a terminal medical prognosis a measure of control over their end-of-life care options,” Hoylman wrote in his memo, which was obtained by the Daily News.
But the proposal faces fierce opposition from religious groups.
“We knew the fight was coming,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation, an evangelical Christian group.
The New York Catholic Conference will also strongly oppose the Hoylman bill, spokesman Dennis Poust said.
“We believe the so-called death with dignity movement is predicated on the false notion that there is something undignified about a natural death,” Poust said. “We don’t buy that.”
Poust said people who are diagnosed with months to live often defy expectations, and that the fear and depression felt by terminally ill patients can cloud their judgment.
The key provisions of Hoylman’s bill are modeled after the Oregon law.
Under his proposed Death With Dignity Act, a person seeking assisted suicide would have to be at least 18 and be given no more than six months to live some patients have been known to live almost 2 years after getting the poison.
The individual would have to make written and oral requests to a physician, and follow up with another verbal request at least 15 days later. The patient also must be deemed capable of making and communicating health care decisions, meaning advanced Alzheimer’s patients wouldn’t qualify.
In other states, a person is given a fast-acting lethal barbiturate. Hoylman’s proposal does not yet specify a method of suicide.
But doctors assisting in a suicide would be immune from criminal or civil liability if they acted in "good" faith.
In New York, people on both sides of the approaching debate agreed Tuesday that approval of Hoylman’s bill is unlikely in 2015.Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana, and New Jersey and California Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Connecticut have been debating the issue.
“But it gets the conversation going,” said George Eighmey, vice chairman of the Death with Dignity National Center.
In Oregon, 752 people have died under the Death With Dignity Act in the 16 years it’s been in palce, including 71 people in 2013. That’s a small percentage of the number of terminally ill people, but the fact that legal suicide is possible gives many people comfort, Eighmey maintained.
“The purpose is to give people facing end of life one more option,” Eighmey said.
Hoylman in his letter to the other senators said he recognizes the “legitimate profound emotional considerations and ethical and religious concerns surrounding this issue.”
But he said his legislation will include “strong protections” to ensure patients are capable of making sound, informed decisions while doctors, hospitals and pharmacists who object to the law are under no legal obligation to participate.
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