A Letter To Legislative Leadership Regarding Assisted Suicide

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Dear Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie:

The New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide (NYAAAS) is an association of diverse organizations and individuals committed to maintaining New York’s longstanding ban on assisted suicide. We write to reaffirm our strong opposition to Bill S.2445-A-Hoylman-Sigal/A.995-A-Paulin, a dangerous bill that should not receive a floor vote in either house of the New York State Legislature.

As you know, under New York law, it is a crime to assist another person in making a suicide attempt. New York’s laws against assisted suicide have been upheld as constitutional in federal and state courts. Bill S.2445-A-Hoylman-Sigal/A.995-A-Paulin would create a carve-out in New York’s assisted suicide laws, making it legal for terminally-ill patients who are expected to die within six months to obtain lethal drugs by prescription. The bill is unacceptable for a wide range of reasons.

First, this bill would likely lead patients to take their own lives based upon inaccurate prognoses. The bill bases eligibility for assisted suicide on a physician’s prognosis that a given patient has no more than six months to live. However, studies show that physicians’ survival estimates for terminally-ill patients are often inaccurate. If assisted suicide were made legal in New York, a patient who received an overpessimistic prognosis might take his or her own life when he or she might otherwise have outlived that prognosis by a substantial period of time. This very real possibility should be unacceptable to all New Yorkers.

Second, assisted suicide is an inappropriate response to a real problem. The state of New York ranks last in the country in hospice utilization. An assisted suicide law would likely lead some patients to choose suicide because they lack access to effective medical treatment or to hospice and palliative care. Instead of legalizing assisted suicide, the state should work to significantly expand the use of New York’s hospice and palliative care resources. A compassionate society does not treat terminally-ill persons as though their lives are expendable.

Third, assisted suicide offers no guarantee of a peaceful, painless death. One in five Dutch patients using barbiturates to commit suicide experienced complications. Those complications included vomiting, inability to finish the medication, longer-than-expected time to die, failure to induce coma, and awakening from coma.

Fourth, an assisted suicide law might lead some patients to choose suicide because they are suffering with undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions that cloud their judgment. The bill does not require patients living with depression or other mental health conditions to obtain counseling or a mental health evaluation before receiving prescriptions for lethal drugs. Rather, the bill only requires an attending physician to refer an assisted suicide-minded patient to a mental health professional for screening if the physician believes that the patient “may lack capacity to make an informed decision.”  

Fifth, assisted suicide laws normalize assisted suicide as an acceptable response to disability. Persons with serious chronic or terminal illnesses often become disabled as their diseases progress. Health professionals and others may incorrectly perceive that those patients have less “quality of life” than healthier persons do. While the rest of society receives suicide prevention education and services from the state, this bill would direct suicide assistance toward certain disabled individuals. This double standard is a form of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Furthermore, an assisted suicide law could cause patients that need assistance with daily living to feel pressured physically, emotionally, and financially to choose suicide.

Sixth, an assisted suicide law might encourage suicide among persons who are not terminally ill. During the period in which suicide has been legal in Oregon, the occurrence of suicide in Oregon’s general population was 40% above the national average.

Lastly, legalizing assisted suicide would create an economic incentive for insurers to deny treatment to terminally-ill persons.

Assisted suicide legislation has not been acted upon by any committee in either house of the Legislature since 2016. It would be irresponsible to bypass the usual legislative process by calling for an end-of-session vote on a deeply controversial bill like this one.

Let’s not help terminally ill New Yorkers die. Instead, let’s help them live.

Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

The Allied Partners of the New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide

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