Memorandum of Opposition
Re: A.2694 Paulin / S.3947 Savino
In relation to legalizing physician-assisted suicide
The above-referenced bill would add a new section of the Public Health Law to allow physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication for the express purpose of ending a patient’s life.
The New York State Catholic Conference opposes this bill for many reasons.More
Testimony of the New York State Catholic Conference regarding the “Medical Aid in Dying Act” (A.2383-A / S.3151-A). Submitted by Edward T. Mechmann, Esq., Assembly Hearing Room, 19th Floor, 250 Broadway, New York, N.Y.
May 3, 2018
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Assembly, good afternoon. My name is Edward Mechmann, I am the Director of Public Policy of the Archdiocese of New York. I am grateful for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Archdiocese and the New York State Catholic Conference, which is the public policy arm of the eight Catholic dioceses in New York State. I was the author of an amicus brief on behalf of the Catholic Conference in the Myers v. Schneiderman litigation. More
By Kathleen M. Gallagher
The recent suicides of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain highlight a deeply disturbing trend in the United States. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals that suicides are climbing in the United States. The suicide rate went up more than 30% in half of the states around the country since 1999. In New York State, the increase was 29%. In just one year alone (2016) in the U.S., 45,000 lives were lost to suicide. It is now the tenth leading cause of death in the country. For certain this is a public health crisis.
And I can’t help but think about how the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in some states may be contributing to this crisis. There’s a thing called “suicide contagion,” and it’s real – exposure to, and acceptance of, suicide will increase the risk of suicide to others. Take Vermont, for example, which enacted doctor-assisted suicide in 2013; their suicide rate has jumped almost 49%.
I recommend this page from the CDC website, which offers all the statistics, plus excellent tips on preventing suicide. Among the tips are these, which I note with some irony:
- Promote safe and supportive environments. This includes safely storing medications…to reduce access among people at risk. But wait, physician-assisted suicide encourages terminally ill suicidal people to bring those very medications home with them!
- Teach coping and problem-solving skills to help people manage challenges with their…health or other concerns. Physician-assisted suicide tells patients with health problems the very opposite – they can’t manage, so give up, lose hope, end it all.
- Offer activities that bring people together so they feel connected and not alone. A policy of physician-assisted suicide abandons people and leaves them isolated and afraid. We need to engage with them and accompany them so they will not feel hopeless.
The same CDC website lists the 12 warning signs that someone might be at risk of suicide. The first one listed is “feeling like a burden,” one of the top reasons given by terminal patients for wanting life-ending drugs in those states which have legalized assisted suicide.
This isn’t rocket science. Suicide is suicide is suicide, and we should be working hard to reduce its incidence among all people, for any reason. And that includes terminally ill people who may feel devastated, depressed, alone, and burdensome. We need consistent messages about suicide prevention.
Proponents of the so-called “Medical Aid-in-Dying Act” argue that it contains safeguards which protect vulnerable patients. Yet a close examination of the bill’s language reveals inadequate protections for patients most at risk of abuse, and lower medical standards than elsewhere in the Public Health Law. The bill lacks transparency and accountability, and contains extremely weak conscience protections for both health care professionals and health care institutions. In short, it is unsafe for all involved. More
Following is a statement of Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference:
“We are pleased and grateful for today’s unanimous Court of Appeals ruling in Myers vs. Schneiderman. The Court has wisely determined that New York’s law prohibiting assisted suicide applies to everyone, including those physicians who may wish to assist in their patients’ deaths. ‘There are no exceptions, and the statutes are unqualified in scope…,’ the Court said. More
by Kathleen M. Gallagher
In a very revealing commentary published at jurist.org last month, long-time assisted suicide advocate Kathryn Tucker admits that the so-called “safeguards” included in physician-assisted suicide proposals aren’t really safeguards at all. In fact, she calls them “burdens,” “restrictions,” and “barriers.” She thinks it’s unfortunate that these restrictions are included in the laws of Oregon and Vermont, and laments the fact that the recently-passed District of Columbia Act includes them as well.
Tucker says the safeguards “impose heavy governmental intrusion into the practice of medicine.” She points to Montana as the solution – there, the state’s high court allows doctor-assisted suicide without any safeguards at all; it’s all subject to a doctor’s judgment about the “best standard of care.”
Well, you have to give her points for honesty. It’s refreshing at least. For years now the proponents of these suicide bills have been selling them to state lawmakers with their promise of “strict safeguards” to ensure there is no abuse or coercion in the way the laws are carried out. In contrast, those of us who have opposed physician-assisted suicide have consistently argued that the so-called “safeguards” in these bills are a con — as Wesley Smith has cleverly noted, they are the “honey to help make the hemlock go down.”
New York State lawmakers should not be fooled. No strict “guidelines” or “safeguards” can prevent the financial pressures, mistaken diagnoses, subtle coercion and other dangers that will inevitably accompany a policy of legalized death-making.
Physician-assisted suicide bills in New York, like similar bills that have passed in several other states, lack important safeguards, making coercion or misapplication of the law a serious threat. Furthermore, they send a dangerous message to society that when someone is considered a “burden” to someone else, his or her life is no longer worth living.
While New York rightly spends millions of dollars a year to combat suicide, it is considering undermining these efforts significantly by declaring that oftentimes, suicide is “death with dignity.” The not-so-subtle implication is that those who choose to fight for their lives or to simply allow themselves to die a natural death are somehow undignified.
The New York State Catholic Conference has joined other opponents as part of the New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide, made up of patients-rights, disabilities-rights advocates, health care, civil rights and faith-based advocacy organizations. Together we support increased access to palliative care (comfort care) and a rejection of the dangerous national movement toward physician assisted suicide.
Below are some resources with which you can help us in our advocacy.
- Action Alert — Contact Your Elected Officials
- NYSCC Flyer/Bulletin Insert
- New Yorkers for Life flyer
- Issue in Brief printable PDF
- Fatal Flaws in Assisted Suicide Legislation Fact Sheet
- Legislative Memo of Opposition
- NYSCC testimony by Edward Mechmann
- “Man of Steel” Video of James “JJ” Hanson, Brain Cancer Patient and Assisted Suicide Opponent
- JJ’s Final Days video
- “Deadly Drugs” blog post by Kathleen M. Gallagher
- Assisted suicide “safeguards” revealed as con” blog post by Kathleen Gallagher
- “The effect of legalizing assisted suicide on palliative care and suicide rates” article by Richard Doerflinger
Proponents of the “Patient Self-Determination Act” argue that it contains safeguards which protect vulnerable patients. Yet a close examination of the bill’s language reveals inadequate protections for patients most at risk of abuse, and lower medical standards than elsewhere in the Public Health Law. In addition, the legislation lacks transparency and accountability and contains extremely weak conscience protections for both health care professionals and health care institutions.
1. The bill invites coercion and undue influence.
The bill requires two witnesses to a patient’s written request for assisted suicide, and one of these two witnesses cannot be “a relative of the patient…a person who at the time the request is signed would be entitled to any portion of the estate of the patient…[or]an owner, operator or employee of a health care facility.” § 2899-d(12)
However, the bill does not prohibit the other witness from being a relative, a person entitled to a portion of the patient’s estate, or a person associated with the health care facility where the patient is receiving treatment. There is also no requirement that either witness be an adult or even someone who knows the patient.
This is problematic because patients, particularly isolated elderly patients in long-term care facilities, are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. In theory, one witness may be a person who has a vested financial interest in the patient’s death, and the other witness may be a minor.
There is no requirement that a patient be determined to be competent and acting voluntarily at the time that they self-administer the lethal drugs. This leaves patients vulnerable to coercion and abuse once they are outside of the direct oversight of their doctor.
Printable version: Maintain Ban on Assisted Suicide
New York’s current law prohibits assisting in suicide by anyone, including doctors who prescribe lethal doses of drugs to end the lives of terminally ill patients who wish to die. This law was challenged in 1994 and upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Vacco vs. Quill in 1997.
Two pieces of legislation have been introduced in the New York Legislature to legalize physician-assisted suicide, and they are equally dangerous. In addition, a new lawsuit has been filed by an assisted suicide advocacy organization to overturn New York’s ban. The 2014 assisted suicide death of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who moved to Oregon to secure a physician’s help to commit suicide, has renewed efforts across the country to legalize this practice.
The Catholic Conference seeks to maintain New York State’s current prohibition on assisted suicide while ensuring increased support, resources, palliative and hospice care, appropriate pain relief and treatment for the terminally ill.
by Kathleen M. Gallagher
Legislation to legalize physician-assisted suicide has been introduced in New York State, and organizations like Final Exit Network are all in. They say that absolutely no abuses have taken place in states where doctor-assisted suicide is legal.
How could they possibly know that? Under the law, doctors who “aid-in-dying” are required to state untruthfully on the death certificate that their patient’s cause of death was their underlying illness, and not the lethal dose of drugs they prescribed that killed them. There is absolutely no way to track abuses. This same provision is in the New York Senate proposal, by the way. More