Bill sponsor says religious support is ‘next step’ for passing aid-in-dying bill

Rabbi Dr. David Gordis speaks in support of aid in dying legislation. Gazette photo by Daniel Wells.

Aid in Dying legislation received momentous support from religious leaders of various denominations Monday, urging passage of the proposal, which 67 percent of Americans support, according to a survey by Life Way research.

The bill, (A.2383/S.3151) proposed in January by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, and Senator Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, would allow for a mentally competent, terminally ill patient with a six month prognosis or less to request a lethal dose of barbiturates from their doctor. The medication would allow them to choose the time and place of their passing, before their pain becomes too unbearable or they become a burden on their families.

Savino is confident that religious support is the “next step” in passing the legislation. “Aid in dying is not something everyone would choose, but it’s a choice everyone should have, no matter how or where you worship,” she said. “I’m a Catholic, and my faith is important to me, but allowing patients, their families, and doctors to discuss a safe and compassionate way to end their suffering is important to me and millions of New Yorkers.”

Though they came from different denominations, the religious leaders had something in common: their experience dealing with terminally ill and dying New Yorkers. According to the Rev. Valerie Anne Ross, a senior community minister in Greenwich Village, every individual’s death experience can differ.

“Everybody dies. I have spent hours comforting the dying and their families, and while heartbreaking it is also heartwarming,” Ross said. “For some, death is simple. For others, death is made more difficult by a lack of systematic compassion in our legal systems… making more compassionate laws around dying helps everybody. It gives us the comfort we need from our society and our governments.”

Reverend Valerie Anne Ross from Judson memorial Church in Greenwich Village, NY, spoke to the crowd. Gazette photo by Daniel Wells.

Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried, D-Manhattan, equates aid in dying policies with the option to refuse treatment when diagnosed with a terminal illness.

“For over a hundred years, New York law has recognized that adults with mental capacity have the right to refuse life-saving treatment,” Gottfried said. “Morally and legally, they should have the right to end their suffering through medication if that is their own choosing.”

Catholics in New York, however, still aren’t on board with passing aid in dying legislation. According to Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic conference, concern lies in the potential law’s impact on vulnerable populations. The conference is partnering with disability and elder advocates to fight against its passage.

“The term death with dignity implies that natural death isn’t dignified,” Poust said. “It’s offensive to use this term, but the bigger issue is the slippery slope of who this will affect. We spend money on suicide prevention, but want to pass assisted suicide. It sends a mixed message.”

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan suggested in 2015 to the Daily News that aid in dying devalues human life. “There’s a great move in contemporary society to make one’s worth and dignity synonymous with one’s ability to produce, achieve and be useful,” he told the paper.

Despite the opposition, religious leaders in support value the option to lead conversations about death with their congregations in a new way. According to Rabbi David Gordis, the legislation is about choice and personal prerogative.

“A paramount principle for me is that we have an obligation to reduce suffering when we can,” he said. “The law should… not impose the values of others, religious or political, on the freedom of the individual to make those decisions.”