Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide Legislation

Published on March 5th, 2024

Following is a statement from Dennis Poust, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, regarding physician-assisted suicide legislation (A-995-A Paulin / S2445-A Hoylman-Sigal) in the state legislature:

“There are countless reasons to oppose physician-assisted suicide that have nothing to do with one’s religious beliefs.

“For one, the idea itself, while shrouded in warm euphemisms, involves asking a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of chemicals whose sole purpose is to end a person’s life. As the Medical Society of the State of New York writes in opposing this bill, ‘physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia have not been part of the normative practice of modern medicine.’

“‘Although relief of suffering has always been a fundamental duty in medical practice, relief of suffering through shortening of life has not,’ the Medical Society says.

“Secondly, the bill’s main proponents — an organization that has changed its name several times throughout the years but started as the Hemlock Society — suggest they’ve included items they consider ‘safeguards’ against inappropriate activity. A close look at the bill clearly shows these so-called safeguards are at best spongy and at worst easily gamed.

“For example, the bill forces doctors to knowingly lie on a death certificate for someone who killed themselves in this manner, by requiring a person’s underlying illness to be listed as the cause of death, and not the actual cause of death, which is ingestion of a lethal dose of chemicals provided by a doctor. Under any other circumstances, a deliberate false statement on a death certificate would be a crime under the state’s Penal Law. Stunningly, the legislation does not require a mental health evaluation unless specifically ordered by a physician, even though the patient is directly expressing the intention of killing himself or herself.

“For anyone who doesn’t think this kind of law creates a slippery slope, one needs to look to our neighbor to the north. A mere eight years after the Canadian government approved physician-assisted suicide, the program already was expanded in 2021 to individuals with chronic – but not terminal – illnesses. The law recently was expanded yet again, this time to allow people with mental illness, like depression or anorexia, to be approved for assisted suicide or euthanasia. This latest expansion, originally planned for this month, will go into effect in 2027.

“Well-researched euphemisms and poll-driven rhetoric won’t change reality. This idea would start New York State on a dangerous path that contaminates medicine and turn the notion of compassion on its head. This is why legislatures in states like Connecticut and Maryland have put the brakes on this dangerous bill. New York’s legislature should show similar restraint, especially in light of the disastrous outcome in Canada.

“New York State should instead focus on improving palliative care, which is woefully underutilized and provides true compassion and death with dignity to those at the end of life.”

The Catholic Conference represents the Bishops of New York State in public policy matters. Full analysis of the fatal flaws of this legislation can be found here.