This article was published on the Not Dead Yet website on May 3, 2016
A clear and welcome ruling came down Tuesday, May 3rd, from the NY Appellate Division in an assisted suicide case in which NDY filed a friend-of-the-court brief joined by ten other national and state disability organizations. The Court found no constitutional right to assisted suicide. Below is an excerpt from the 36-page decision:
[P]laintiffs rely on two papers that purport to offer empirical evidence that Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, now in effect for over 20 years, has not invited the fears articulated by people opposed to aid-in-dying, such as an adverse impact on vulnerable populations, and the difficulty in distinguishing whether a wish to end one’s life is driven by a desire to control one’s death, clinical depression, or something else. However, even were a finder of fact to determine that aid-in-dying is “workable,” the issue before us transcends mere practical concerns. As the Supreme Court stated in Glucksberg, a state’s interest in preserving human life “is symbolic and aspirational as well as practical” (521 US at 729), favorably quoting the New York State Task Force, which observed:
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“‘While suicide is no longer prohibited or penalized, the ban against assisted suicide and euthanasia shores up the notion of limits in human relationships. It reflects the gravity with which we view the decision to take one’s own life or the life of another, and our reluctance to encourage or promote these decisions.’ New York Task Force 131-132” (id.).
. . . . We find that, even giving plaintiffs the benefit of every reasonable inference, they have not presented sufficient allegations to suggest that the Penal Law has an implicit carve-out for aid-in-dying, or that, notwithstanding the precedents on the matter, the constitutionality of aid-in-dying is ripe for judicial reconsideration.
The issue before us unquestionably presents a host of legitimate concerns on both sides of the debate. As discussed above, plaintiffs present some compelling reasons for making aid- in-dying a legitimate option for those suffering from terminal illness. At the same time, the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law2 in 1994 “unanimously recommend[ed] that New York laws prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia should not be changed” (see Task Force, When Death Is Sought: Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the Medical Context [May 1994]).
The Task Force based its view on the risks that could be presented to the elderly, poor, socially disadvantaged, and those without access to good medical care; and the role of treatable symptoms such as pain and depression in creating a desire for lethal medications. It also noted that most doctors lack a sufficiently close relationship to their patients to appropriately evaluate a request for help in ending life, and expressed the concern that it could open the door to euthanasia of those incapable of giving consent. We are not persuaded from the record before us that, even though society’s viewpoints on a host of social issues have changed over the last 20 years, aid-in-dying is an issue where a legitimate consensus has formed.