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Albany Times-Union: Bill lets terminal patients get aid in dying

By Casey Seiler, 2/9

Supporters of legislation that would set up the process through which physicians could provide terminal patients with a fatal dose of medication don’t want it referred to as an “assisted suicide” bill. “Aid in dying” is more accurate, they argue.

The bill, carried in the Assembly by Democrat Amy Paulin and in the Senate by Republican John Bonacic, includes what supporters say are sufficient safeguards to protect against abuse or coercion of the ailing patient, including:

The patient’s attending physician would have to to determine that a patient was likely to live only six months;

Any patient whom a physician suspects of suffering from depression or any other psychological condition would have to be examined by a counselor to ensure that mental problems were not impeding their decision-making on ending their life;

The patient’s request for lethal medication would have to be signed by two witnesses, including at least one who does not stand to benefit financially from the person’s death.

“The intent of this bill is to provide terminally ill patients to choose the time, place and manner of their death, and to allow health care professionals to provide them with the means without incurring liability or professional disciplinary action,” Paulin said at a Tuesday news conference at the Capitol.

The Assemblywoman described her sister’s protracted death from ovarian cancer, which followed almost a year of feeding tubes and chemotherapy that proved to be fruitless. She went into hospice and ultimately made the decision to stop taking nutrition.

“It was agonizing,” Paulin said. ” … She chose that. I don’t see any difference, except that this is more peaceful and with more dignity.”

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said that New York law has held for decades that patients have a right to refuse treatment, include life-sustaining care.

“To me, I don’t see any meaningful philosophical or clinical or ethical or religious difference between a patient saying ‘Stop life-sustaining treatment, give me pain management even though it may be clear that that will depress my breathing and shorten my life’ … and a patient having the right to say, ‘I want medication that will enable the suffering and the pain to come to an end,'” Gottfried said.

Opponents of the bill, however, see a significant difference.

“You withdraw the treatment, the patient dies of the underlying illness,” said Kathleen Gallagher, the state Catholic Conference’s director of pro-life activities. “You give them pills, they’re going to die from that overdose of lethal drugs.”

Gallagher noted that all the safeguards in the legislation are imposed before the medication arrives in the household.

“There’s absolutely nothing to stop coercion,” she said, “or somebody mixing it up in a patient’s food (or) tricking a patient into taking it because of financial exploitation.”

“It’s absolutely suicide,” she said of the bill’s end result.