Physician-Assisted Suicide


Physician-Assisted Suicide

February 1, 2024

Memorandum of Opposition

Re:  A995-B Paulin/S2445-B Hoylman-Sigal
Relates to the medical aid in dying act

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.

For years, we have argued that legalizing assisted suicide would result in a slippery slope. The ongoing euthanasia scandal in Canada is providing a real-time example of just how slippery the slope can be. What began in 2016 as a limited program for those with irreversible, terminal and painful illness has morphed into something entirely different in just a few years.

Subsequent to its initial legalization, availability for assisted suicide in Canada was expanded to those without terminal illness, but merely with an “intolerable” condition. There are plans in place to expand it further, to the mentally ill and even to “mature minors.” Assisted suicide has been discussed and sought out as a solution for homelessness. There have been reports of doctors offering it to veterans suffering from PTSD, and those in need of extra help to live independently. As the Associated Press recently reported, people with disabilities and depression have been euthanized. It has been written about in terms of the cost-savings it would provide for the healthcare industry.

These shocking developments prove that a such a law, even with so-called safeguards, devalues human life. Implementing assisted suicide as an accepted medical “treatment” sends the message that our most vulnerable populations are not worth the resources it might take to improve their lives. Those most at risk of being taken advantage of and discarded by the health system will be endangered further.

Legalizing physician-assisted suicide would:

  • Blur longstanding medical, moral and legal distinctions between withdrawing extraordinary medical assistance and taking active steps to destroy human life. The former removes burdensome or useless treatments, allowing nature to take its course, and allowing the patient to either live or die. The latter is the deliberate and direct act of making a patient dead. In 2017, New York’s highest court said this distinction is “important, logical, and certainly rational,” adding that “it turns on intent.” (See Myers v. Schneiderman, September 7, 2017)
  • Undermine the physician’s role as healer, forever altering the doctor-patient relationship, and lessen the quality of care provided to patients at the end of life. Patients are best served when medical professionals, together with families and loved ones, provide support and care with dignity and respect, not lethal doses of drugs. The American Medical Association continues to hold a strong policy position against physician-assisted suicide, which they say is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role” and would be “difficult or impossible to control.”

This particular legislation contains many of the same fatal flaws contained in previous versions:

  • it does not require screening, testing, or treatment for clinical depression;
  • it requires a physician to list the underlying illness (and not the lethal drugs) as the cause of death, making it impossible to know how widely this form of suicide is being practiced, thus making it impossible to track abuses;
  • it contains absolutely no safeguards against coercion or abuse once the lethal drugs are in the patient’s possession; and
  • it contains no residency requirement, opening the door to out-of-state visitors obtaining deadly drugs here.

Rather than assisting suicide, we believe government should be consistent in its efforts to prevent suicide. It is illogical for the state to promote/facilitate suicide for one group of persons — calling the suicides of those with a terminal illness and a specific prognosis “dignified and humane,” while recognizing suicide as a serious statewide public health crisis in all other circumstances and spending enormous resources to combat it.

We urge the state to remove barriers and improve access to palliative care and hospice care for those in the final stages of terminal illness. Improved education and training of physicians in pain management, together with appropriate diagnosis and treatment for depression, would go a long way toward eliminating calls for suicide among the sick and the dying.

Without these changes, and with the enactment of this legislation, we believe there is serious risk that physician-assisted suicide will rise to the level of the most acceptable, and even expected, “treatment” for terminal illness. The mainstreaming of such an option will lead to further disparities in caring for our most vulnerable. We urge you not to allow that to happen.

We strongly recommend opposition to this legislation.