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Physician-Assisted Suicide

Memorandum of Opposition

Re:  A4321-A Paulin
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.

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the inequities of our current health care system. The virus has infected and killed thousands of our beloved elderly and has impacted low-income persons and persons of color at disproportionately high rates. Deaths from COVID-19 have taken well over half a million Americans and more than 50,000 New Yorkers. More


Fatal Flaws in Assisted Suicide Legislation

Photo by Jonathan Perez on UnsplashPrintable PDF Here

Proponents of the so-called “Medical Aid-in-Dying Act” (A.2694/S.3947)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


We need consistent messages about suicide prevention

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

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.


Statement on Court of Appeals decision in assisted suicide case

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


Assisted suicide “safeguards” revealed as a con

by Kathleen M. Gallagher

large_article_im418_assisted_suicide_hands_picnikIn 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.


Assisted Suicide Is Bad Medicine for NYS

The assisted suicide movement would fundamentally transform medicine and the doctor-patient relationship.

 

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.

Resources

Below are some resources with which you can help us in our advocacy.


Assisted suicide is an invitation to abuse

needleby 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


Assisted suicide dies at the ballot box

by Kathleen M. Gallagher

One bit of good news that came of the elections this month was the defeat of the Massachusetts ballot proposal to legalize so-called “death with dignity.” The voters in the Commonwealth saw through the gushy gobbledygook of “aid-in-dying” for the terminally ill, and unmasked the initiative for what it truly was: the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide.

It’s an astounding victory, given that the polls just a week before Election Day had shown the referendum passing by a wide margin. Bravo to the successful and organized effort in Massachusetts to defeat the proposal, led by pro-life organizations, medical groups, disability rights advocates and the Catholic Church. And bravo to the voters of Massachusetts! Here are my top 5 reasons why they did the right thing. More


Assisted Suicide Bill Exits New York

By Kathleen M. Gallagher

Earlier this month we achieved a quiet, but significant, victory here in New York State. We convinced Assemblyman Eric Stevenson (D – Bronx) to withdraw a bill he sponsored that would have legalized doctor-assisted suicide in the Empire State. Of course, it wasn’t called that; it was called the “death with dignity” act, and it promised “empowerment” for terminally ill patients to enable them to choose the time and manner of their death in a “humane and dignified” manner.

In reality, it would have joined New York with Oregon, Washington and Montana in allowing doctors to knowingly prescribe lethal doses of medication with the express purpose of ending their patients’ lives. It would have changed the role of physician from that of healer to that of killer. It would have changed the way society cares for the sick from that of alleviating discomfort and managing pain to a death-based solution for those who feel they are burdensome and have lost their autonomy.

In 1994, then Governor Mario Cuomo’s Task Force on Life and the Law unanimously concluded that legalizing assisted suicide would “pose profound risks to many patients.” They said this:

“No matter how carefully any guidelines are framed, assisted suicide and euthanasia will be practiced through the prism of social inequality and bias that characterizes the delivery of services in all segments of our society, including health care. The practices will pose the greatest risks to those who are poor, elderly, members of a minority group, or without access to good medical care. The growing concern about health care costs increases the risks presented by legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia. This cost consciousness will not be diminished, and may well be exacerbated, by health care reform.”

I would argue this is truer today than it was 18 years ago. Thank God the New York legislation is gone. Let’s hope it’s a final exit.


2022 End-of-Session Round-Up

Thank you for your support of the NYS Catholic Action Network. The 2022 Legislative Session in Albany has adjourned. We appreciate your action on several bills throughout the session. Below are some updates on legislation of interest to the New York State Catholic Conference.

Respect Life/Moral Values

Physician-Assisted Suicide: Once again this issue did not get a vote in the Health Committee of either house, because in each case proponents were still one or two votes short, thanks to your advocacy. Our memo of opposition is here.

Hospice Care: A package of two bills to increase access to palliative care and hospice care, and create a public service awareness campaign, passed both houses. The Catholic Conference worked with the Senate sponsor on this legislation. Our memo of support is here.

“Equality Amendment”: This proposed constitutional amendment will add additional protections for abortion rights in the state constitution. The amendment’s passage is the first in a three-step process; it will need to pass again by a separately elected legislature before going to a popular referendum. While the original version of the bill did not, this version maintains the same level of scrutiny for “creed or religion” as the other protected classes. Our memo of opposition is here.

“Abortion Sanctuary”: The legislature passed a series of abortion-related measures as a response to the possible reversal of Roe v. Wade. The bills were all focused on “protecting” women who come from out of state or doctors who perform abortions on out-of-state women from liability. Our memo of opposition is here.

Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers: The legislature passed a bill long opposed by the Conference that authorizes a “study” of pro-life pregnancy centers with the purpose of harassing them and a finding that the centers do not provide the “full range of services” for pregnant women. Unfortunately this bill got caught up with the above abortion bills in the Senate, which helped its passage. We have called on Governor Hochul to veto this bill, as it has nothing to do with her stated goal of “safeguarding access” to abortion and only serves to limit alternatives and harass good people providing crucial services to women. Our memo of opposition is here.

Gun Control: In the wake of the two most recent mass shootings, Governor Hochul called for a package of new measures, including a licensure requirement and raising of the age for purchasing or possessing semi-automatic weapons, adjustments to the state’s existing “red flag” law, and other measures. We supported the entire package, which passed both houses and was signed into law. Our memo of support is here.

Human Composting: Sadly, both houses took up and passed this bill late in session to authorize the process of composting of human remains, which converts the human body to soil in an accelerated fashion, where it may then be scattered, buried or used as fertilizer. The Conference has opposed this bill since its introduction a couple of years ago, and our opposition was mentioned during the floor debate in the Assembly. Our memo of opposition is here.

Protecting Children/Criminal Justice

Clean Slate Act: This bill would automatically seal most criminal convictions, misdemeanors and felonies, after a period of time. The Conference has expressed strong concerns that the legislation would impact our ability to do effective background checks on employees and volunteers in our programs who work with children. Only organizations required to do fingerprint-based background checks would get access to the sealed criminal histories, which does not include our schools and parishes. Our memo of concern is here. The bill passed in the Senate but did not come up for a vote in the Assembly. 

Catholic Schools

Health, Safety & Security: We tripled funding, from $15 million to $45 million, to support health and safety projects, including a new authorization to cover critical repair and maintenance and other capital needs of religious and independent school facilities such as air purification systems, roof repair and remediating any hazardous conditions.

STEM:  $58 million, a nearly 40 percent increase, is included to reimburse schools for a portion of the salaries of Science, Technology, Engineering & Math teachers.

Mandated Services Aid (MSA) and Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP): A total of $195,028,000, an increase of $1.9 million, is provided to fully reimburse schools for mandated administrative costs for the 2021-22 school year.

Immunization: We were able to restore $1 million, not included in Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget proposal, to reimburse our schools located in New York City, Buffalo, and Rochester for expenses in complying with the state’s childhood immunization program. 

Federal COVID Relief: We secured language in the budget to guarantee that all federal funding under the Emergency Assistance for Nonpublic Schools (EANS) programs will remain available to reimburse religious and independent schools for on-going COVID-related expenses. 

Substantial Equivalency:  We were successful in getting the Regents to revise their proposed regulation enforcing the state’s “substantial equivalency” standards on religious and independent schools. The proposed regulation now recognizes multiple and long-standing pathways through which the overwhelming majority of religious and independent schools (including ALL Catholic schools) will be determined “substantially equivalent” automatically by the State Education Department (SED). This means our schools will NOT be reviewed by local public school authorities (LSAs), which is a major victory for our schools and families. The NYS Council of Catholic School Superintendent’s comments on the proposed regulation praise the Regents and SED for permitting our schools to continue to demonstrate our success as we have done for many years. The comments go on, however, to reiterate our opposition to SED assigning LSAs with the responsibility to review the few remaining schools which do not fall under any of the multiple pathways. The Regents intend to adopt the regulations in order to be effective during the coming school year.