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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.


2021 End-of-Session Round-Up

Thank you for your support of the NYS Catholic Action Network. The 2021 Legislative Session in Albany has adjourned, although lawmakers may return at some point this summer if agreement is reached on certain legislation. 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 for Human Life

PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE: In an important pro-life victory, advocates for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide failed to get a vote on the bill in any committee in either house of the legislature. The Conference, and our allies in the NY Alliance Against Assisted Suicide, were successful in highlighting the many dangerous consequences of such a policy.

STEALTH EUTHANASIA: The Assembly Health Committee advanced a very dangerous euthanasia bill that would allow proxy decision-makers to deny ordinary food and water to patients. The bill was amended under the radar to allow for the denial not only of tube feeding, but oral feeding as well, even if the patient never requested it. Thankfully, the bill advanced no further.

PRO-LIFE PREGNANCY CENTERS: Legislation to require a biased “study” of pro-life pregnancy centers intended to intimidate and silence them advanced to the Assembly floor but did not receive any floor votes. The NYSCC alert on this issue generated more than 12,000 messages of opposition to legislators.

Family Life/Moral Values

RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA: The state legislature passed and Governor Cuomo signed legislation to legalize the possession and sale of recreational marijuana, an action strongly opposed by the Catholic Conference.

CHILD MARRIAGE: Legislation supported by the Catholic Conference to raise the age of consent for marriage from 17 to 18, passed both houses of the legislature and awaits action by the Governor.

SEX EDUCATION: Legislation to require all public and charter schools to teach “comprehensive” sex education beginning in kindergarten died in committee in both houses.

PROSTITUTION: A bill to decriminalize prostitution in New York was introduced in both houses but did not advance from the Codes Committee in either house.

HUMAN COMPOSTING: Legislation to allow the composting of human remains was advanced in both houses for the first time, but failed to receive a floor vote in either house. The Conference strongly opposed the measure and worked to educate Catholics about how it fails to treat human remains with reverence and respect. A CAN alert generated about 10,000 messages to legislators.

Criminal Justice

CLEAN SLATE ACT: This legislation would have sealed most criminal convictions after three years (misdemeanors) or seven years (felonies), with few exceptions. We heard from safe environment directors in the (arch)dioceses that this would be very problematic in terms of ensuring the protection of children in our programs, as background checks would not pick up older crimes, including violent crimes against children. We actively lobbied both houses and also activated the Catholic Action Network, which resulted in 8,000 messages to legislators in just over a day. We noted the good intentions of the legislation but insisted it needed to be amended to allow not-for-profits working with children and vulnerable adults to learn about criminal convictions of prospective volunteers and employees. Our message was heard loud and clear and a deal to pass the bill fell apart last night over concerns in the Assembly about language. This legislation is likely to be revived for passage if the houses return to Albany at the end of the month and agree on amendments. We will continue working toward appropriate amendment language that protects children and vulnerable adults.

HALT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ACT: A bill supported by the New York State Catholic Conference to dramatically reduce the use of solitary confinement in state prisons finally passed this session and was signed into law by Governor Cuomo. The Catholic Action Network generated about 4,500 messages to legislators.

Human Services

NOURISH NEW YORK: Legislation we supported to make permanent this COVID-related program to address food insecurity by connecting farmers with food banks passed both houses of the legislature and awaits action by Governor Cuomo.

RENT SUBSIDIES INCREASE: This legislation supported by the Catholic Conference, would increase the value of rent subsidies for families whose lack of adequate housing puts their children at risk of entering the foster care system or delays family reunification. The bill passed in the Senate but, sadly, not in the Assembly.

DONOR DISCLOSURE: Legislation supported by the Conference to protect the privacy of donors to 501(c)(3) organizations passed both houses and awaits the Governor’s action.

Education

STEM FUNDING: The state’s STEM program for religious and independent schools is a first-in-the-nation program that reimburses our schools for a portion of the salaries of our teachers of science, technology, engineering and math. Now in its fourth year, and together with our coalition partners, we secured another significant funding increase, bringing the program to $40 million.

SUBSTANTIAL EQUIVALENCY: There were several positive developments this year in the on-going efforts by lawmakers and the State Education Department to respond to the complaints leveled against some Orthodox Yeshivas for not being in compliance with the “substantial equivalency” statute. First, the Board of Regents withdrew proposed regulations that would have required public schools to review the instructional program of religious and independent schools. Secondly, the Regents embarked on a series of stake-holder meetings designed to gather input on a new framework for enforcing instructional mandates for religious and independent schools. The new framework recognizes the long history of academic success of the overwhelming majority of religious and independent schools as evidenced by such schools being accredited by independent agencies, chartered by the Board of Regents and registered with the State Education Department. Third, legislation was introduced in the Assembly which 1) requires the State Education Department Commissioner to approve accreditation agencies and 2) stipulates that schools accredited by such agencies would be deemed in compliance with the substantial equivalency statute. The diocesan school superintendents support the measure because it permits instructional standards to be measured by independent accrediting agencies as opposed to our schools being reviewed and determined to be “substantially equivalent” to public schools. Although the bill passed the Assembly, there was no action on the measure in the Senate.

MANDATED SERVICES AID – SAVE HARMLESS: Building on the precedent set by the Governor and the legislature in holding state aid to public schools harmless during the pandemic, we were successful in securing a comparable save-harmless provision for MSA. Generally, annual MSA reimbursement constitutes approximately 10% of our schools’ operating budgets, while reimbursement for test administration costs ranges from 10 to 70% of schools’ MSA reimbursement.

FEDERAL COVID RELIEF PROGRAMS: More than $500 million was allocated in the state budget from federal COVID relief funds for two equal rounds of approximately $250 million for Emergency Assistance for Nonpublic Schools (EANS). Given the tight timeline required for implementation, we were successful in securing language in the state budget that permits non-competitive contracts for services and assistance to eligible schools through the State Education Department (SED), BOCES and/or third-party contractors. Conference staff worked with the SED and the Governor’s office in developing the application for the first round of EANS. Applications were received from just fewer than 600 of the 1,800 religious and independent schools. The balance of schools were ineligible for EANS because they received PPP-2 loans. We still await guidance from the US Department of Education on the implementation of EANS-2.

Once again, we thank you for your support of the Catholic Action Network, and wish you a relaxing summer. Please follow the New York State Catholic Conference on social media at the links at the top of this page.