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Syracuse Post-Standard: Physician-assisted suicide takes step forward in NY

By Jim Mulder, May 24

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide in New York took a step forward Monday when the Assembly Health Committee for the first time approved a bill that would let dying patients get medication to end their lives.

The committee approved the legislation by a 14-11 vote, setting the stage for a possible vote by the Assembly and Senate next year.

Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, chair of the Assembly health committee, said several assisted suicide bills have been introduced over the past 25 years, but this was the first one to come before the committee. He said he was “pleasantly surprised” the committee approved it.

“More than ever people are focused on the concept that we each ought to be in control of our bodies and our lives,” Gottfried said. “I think that basic proposition combined with real compassion for people who are suffering made the difference.”

Two competing assisted suicide bills were recently combined into one. The combined bill, sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, requires two doctors to confirm the patient is terminally ill and has six months to live.

“I think it’s quite possible that it could have enough public acceptance to become law next year,” Gottfried said.

Disability advocacy organizations, the Catholic Church and other groups oppose assisted suicide. Diane Coleman of Rochester, who heads Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group, said the bill if passed would be “dangerous public policy.”

She fears relatives and other caregivers will coerce patients to request medication to end their lives.

“There’s nothing to prevent an heir or caregiver who wants it to be over as quickly as possible to suggest to the patient, ‘Hey assisted suicide is legal now.'”

Gottfried said the effort to move the issue forward in New York was spurred in part by the 2014 death of Brittany Maynard, a California woman who advocated for the ability to end her own life after developing brain cancer. The 29-year-old went to Oregon, where she took lethal medication prescribed by a doctor and died. Maynard’s husband has visited New York to lobby for the bill.

In addition to Oregon, Vermont, Washington, California and Montana allow
physician assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide is considered a felony in New York state.