New York Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide Would Target the Elderly and Disabled

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 11, 2015   |   11:28AM   |   Albany, NY

A coalition of pro-life groups and disability rights advocates are working to stop a bill in the New York legislature that would legalize assisted suicide and target the elderly and disabled.

Colleen Barry of New York State Right to Life says, “New York has been in the crosshairs of “Compassion and Choices” (formerly ‘The Hemlock Society’), as advocates of  doctor-prescribed suicide use offensive terms such as “dignity” to define the act of a doctor prescribing deadly pills to a vulnerable and hurting patient.”

“A doctor’s number one priority must be to save and support the life of his/her patient,” Barry says. “Society suffers when doctors choose who should and should not be saved. An individual seeking suicide is in need of care and support. In all other instances, an attempt at suicide is recognized as the cry for help that it is. Patients facing daunting diagnoses should be treated no differently than other patients in need of help. They should be given appropriate care, not drugs to end their life.”

She continued: “Despite death advocates painting a picture of patients in unbearable pain, the reality is that data out of Oregon has shown that pain, or fear of future pain does not rank in the top five reasons that a suicide patient lists as to why they are asking their doctor to prescribe them deadly drugs.  Vulnerable patients facing a challenging diagnosis feel, or fear feeling, that they are a burden on friends and family. In states with legal doctor-killing, patients feel a duty to relieve their family of the need to care for them. Patients suffering from mental illness, those with disabilities, and seniors at-risk for elder abuse may feel pressured by society, medical workers, their family, and their own fear, into taking their own lives. Those who are depressed or sick require support, not validation from their doctor and society at-large that their lives are not worth living.”

The bill is pending in the state health committee and opponents are urging New York residents to contact their legislators now to oppose it. The bill is (S. 5814)/(A. 5261-B).

Barry says there are a number of concerns about the logistics of the bill.

“Doctor-prescribed suicide doesn’t require a waiting period. There is not even a waiting period for a patient requesting doctor-prescribed death. Patients feeling depressed, overwhelmed, or facing familial pressure would have no extra time to consider their options, turning physician’s offices into a one-stop death shop,” she said.

She added: “Doctor-prescribed suicide doesn’t allow for a diagnosis of depression. A doctor need not refer an ill and vulnerable patient for counseling prior
to prescribing deadly pills. There is no requirement that a patient –who is asking their physician to give them drugs to kill themselves-see a licensed psychologist to determine if there is depression or other issues that might alter their judgement.”

Those problems persist in other states where assisted suicide is legal.

“In Oregon’s 10th year of legal killing, not a single patient was referred for counseling. Even if a patient were to be referred to a psychologist, which is a rare occurrence based on the data from Oregon, a diagnosis of depression or mental illness would not necessarily preclude the prescription of deadly drugs if the psychologist determines a patient can still make decisions,” she said.

She concluded: Once the deadly pills have been given to hurting individual, it is up to them to take it home and take it when they wish. There is no way to contain these pills once it leaves the hands of the pharmacist and there is no guarantee that another member of the household may take it, or, should the vulnerable patient decide not to take it immediately, slip it to the patient unbeknownst to them. There is no control, there is no safety for the vulnerable.”