A busload of Western New Yorkers are on their way to Albany Monday morning. They will be demonstrating in the lobby of the state Legislative Building, as lawmakers consider the latest "Medical Aid in Dying" bill.
The bill currently being considered in a 10 a.m. hearing would end New York's long-standing ban on physician-assisted suicide. Supporters and opponents will share their comments on Assembly bill A.2383-A, which was one of several thorny measures avoided by lawmakers in the recent budget negotiations.
According to the hearing notice, the bill "would enable terminally ill individuals with decision-making capacity to voluntarily request and receive a prescription for medication to end their lives." Cheryl Calire, director of Pro-life Activities for the Diocese of Buffalo, is on a Diocese-sponsored bus of opponents to the bill. She says the measure is contradictory to community efforts to prevent suicide.
"We do everything as a community to try to prevent suicide. But at the end of life we're basically saying if you think it's time, it's okay," Calire says. "We feel there's no screening or counseling for depression and who isn't sad or depressed if they've been given an adverse diagnosis. And what about those people who don't have family members to help make a decision. So we're concerned about elder abuse or any type of coercion that might happen."
Kristen Hanson, Community Relations Advocate for the Patients’ Rights Action Fund, also is worried about abuse.
"I know this. I am the widow of JJ Hanson, a vibrant 36-year-old father who died of terminal brain cancer less than 4 months ago. I can assure you, as he was dying, my husband wanted, and needed, better access to in-home hospice services, but he couldn’t get it. Where was his choice?" Hanson asks. "New York ranks 48th among the 50 states for hospice utilization and it has the second-lowest number of providers per beneficiary. The State Legislature should be promoting better access to hospice and palliative care, rather than pushing assisted suicide."
Hanson will be among those presenting at this morning's hearing, along with Dr. Sally White. White says the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide would undermine the trust between doctor and patient.
"We need to better train medical professionals in palliative medicine and pain management protocols in order to
relieve terminal patients of their physical suffering," White says. "We need more and better end-of-life care in New York. People wouldn't feel so hopeless if they had access to mental health, in-home, hospice and palliative care, as well as family respite service. We need to provide aid-in-living, rather than so-called ‘aid-in-dying’.”
Calire says the bill being considered by New York lawmakers is similar to one already approved by six other states, so she believes now is a critical time. She also wants more screening and education to be part of the bill.
"I do think it would be nice, especially for those who don't have close family members, to have a medical mentor program so that you can work with people through their end stages of life, maybe when they do feel alone or frightened about what their prognosis is going to be," Calire says. "So just really stepping up some of the things that we can do from a medical standpoint to comfort those that are at the end of their life, but not necessarily end it."
Calire says she expects some 500 demonstrators in Albany.