The Assembly Health Committee on Monday reported the Medical Aid in Dying Act (A.10059/S.7579), which would allow terminally-ill, mentally competent, adult patients to self-administer prescribed medicines to end their own lives if suffering becomes unbearable.
The Health Committee approved the measure by a 14-11 vote and it was reported to the Codes Committee.
The bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, and Senator Diane Savino, D-Staten Island.
David Leven, executive director of End of Life Choices New York, said the legislation provides a compassionate way for dying patients to achieve a peaceful death of their choosing.
“The bill has numerous safeguards and protections for what has proven to be a rarely used but safe practice in several other states, including Oregon, where it has been the law for nearly two decades with no problems whatsoever,” Leven said. “Knowing that aid in dying exists as a legal option provides peace of mind to thousands of terminally ill patients.”
Paulin said moving the bill out of the Health Committee “is a great step forward” and credited Health Chair Richard Gottfriend for getting the bill to the Codes Committee.
“I look forward to engaging further in thoughtful dialogue with my colleagues so that we can enact into law this end of life option that 77 percent of New Yorkers support,” Paulin said.
Five states — Oregon, Vermont, Washington, California and Montana — allow physician assisted aid in dying. In addition, New Mexico had a court rule that patients have a constitutional right to aid in dying; that decision is under appeal.
Aid in dying legislation recently passed the New Jersey Assembly, and legislators in more than 20 states, including all of New England, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming and Missouri, have aid in dying bills pending.
“This bill is about patient autonomy and dignity,” Gottfried said. “It meets all the moral and legal standards we look to in reviewing legislation in the Health Committee. The law already allows adults with capacity to refuse life-saving treatment. Similarly, they should have the right to end their suffering through medication if that is their own choosing.”
The highly publicized, planned death of Brittany Maynard has brought the debate over physician-assisted suicide into the national spotlight. Maynard, who was a native of California, was forced to move to Oregon to gain control of her dying process. Her death, and the accompanying press attention, led the California Legislature to pass, and Gov. Jerry Brown to sign, an aid in dying law on October 5, 2015.
Aid in dying legislation is supported by the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Women’s Association, the American Medical Student Association, the American College of Legal Medicine, and Lamda Legal.
After it passed the Health Committee on Monday, two groups issued statements against the Paulin-Savino bill. The New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms and the New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide say the bill has been rushed through the legislative process with little public input. They also say it could pose a danger to patients, persons with disabilities and New York’s most vulnerable population.
“By hastily rubber-stamping this deeply problematic proposal, the Assembly Health Committee has taken a step toward a future in which the lives of terminally-ill persons are treated as expendable, and in which insurance companies will be at liberty to make cost-saving coverage decisions that steer vulnerable individuals toward physician-assisted death,” said the Rev. Jason J. McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. “As a matter of social justice, NYCF calls upon the full Assembly to reject this bill.”
The bill has only three listed sponsors in the Senate, where it resides in the Health Committee.
“Though we are disappointed in the results of today’s vote, NYCF remains thankful that the notion of assisted suicide will die this session,” McGuire said. “As the unusually close committee votes confirms, the votes are just not there to advance this legislation any further. It looks like the bill will remain on life support for the remainder of the legislative session, but the prognosis for its ultimate defeat is good.”