By Chris Haring

As aid-in-dying champions Assemblymember Amy Paulin and Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal continue to fight for their assisted-dying bill, voters have made their wishes clear.

After nearly a decade of near-misses and stalled efforts, the most recent legislative push for New York’s  Medical Aid in Dying Act (A995/S2445), sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (District 88) and state Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal (District 47), has once again surged, drawing renewed attention to the efforts of right-to-die advocates and lawmakers in the state.

Medical aid in dying has seen consistent support among New Yorkers

Ashley Hupfl wrote for The Daily Gazette that proponents of the bill, including Assembly Health Chair Paulin, voiced optimism tempered by the challenges ahead. Despite resistance from certain quarters, the tide of public opinion appears overwhelmingly in favor of assisted-dying legislation: a recent YouGov poll commissioned by Death with Dignity and Completed Life Initiative revealed a 72% to 23% margin of support among New Yorkers.

Meanwhile, a March 5th press conference held by proponents underscores the urgency of the cause, with Paulin drawing parallels between the right to assisted death and other fundamental freedoms, such as reproductive rights. “We cannot say we are for choice unless we are all choices,” she said.

Common sense and personal experiences drive right-to-die advocacy

Despite the obstacles, many have remained committed to advocating for compassionate end-of-life options for terminally ill individuals. Personal stories shared by lawmakers, including Paulin and others featured in a recent video by Death with Dignity, underscore the human toll of unnecessary suffering and the imperative of affording individuals the right to a dignified death.

Meanwhile, other legislative aid-in-dying champions, such as State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (District 35), note that while people favor it, they’ve generally avoided discussing death altogether. However, the tides are changing, the senator notes: “I think people are more conscious and more comfortable having those discussions,” she said.

As the debate continues to unfold, the sustained push – buoyed by support from a clear majority of New Yorkers – for the Medical Aid in Dying Act serves as a reminder of the importance of dignity, autonomy, and compassion for people at all stages of life. 

For more information on the status of Death with Dignity in New York, please visit the state page on our website.

(Disclaimer: As they appear in the following story, the terms “assisted suicide” and “euthanasia” are incorrectly used as synonyms for “medical aid in dying” and “physician-assisted dying/death.” Notably, in jurisdictions with codified Death with Dignity laws, each specifies that medical aid in dying is, in fact, not suicide, nor a means to assist in suicide, so to conflate the two is technically and legally inaccurate.)

Lawmakers, advocates push for Medical Aid in Dying Act, again

By: Ashley Hupfl
Published: March 9, 2024

STATE CAPITOL — After stalling for nearly 10 years, advocates and lawmakers are once again hoping this will be the year a bill passes allowing the terminally ill with six months or less to live to request a prescription to die.

The Medical Aid in Dying Act is sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal. The bill’s current language would apply to terminally ill, mentally competent adult patients who are expected to die within six months. Speaking at the state Capitol on Tuesday, Paulin said the bill has never been closer to passage.

“That doesn’t mean that we’ve closed the gap. We still have some resistance — not even from leadership — from some members,” Paulin said, “and why we can’t seem to get this over the tap is really beyond me.”

Multiple polls have shown broad support for the bill, as well. A new YouGov poll commissioned by the groups Death with Dignity and Completed Life Initiative found New York residents support medical aid in dying by a 72% to 23% margin.

Advocates held a press conference last May in hopes of passing the bill before the end of 2023 legislative session in early June, but Paulin was not hopeful it would pass at the time, after the state budget was nearly a month late.

On Tuesday, Paulin compared assisted suicide to reproductive rights, saying one cannot support one without supporting the other.

“We cannot say we are for choice unless we are all choices. All choices. This is a choice. This is a choice that it’s time New York understood,” the assemblywoman said. “It is the same kind of choice as abortion. It is control over our bodies, it is control for bodies of both men and women. It has control over our bodies at our most vulnerable time — the time we are leaving this earth.”

One of the bill’s loudest opponents is the New York State Catholic Conference. The group put out a statement following the press conference Tuesday.

“For anyone who doesn’t think this kind of law creates a slippery slope, one needs to look to our neighbor to the north. A mere eight years after the Canadian government approved physician-assisted suicide, the program already was expanded in 2021 to individuals with chronic — but not terminal — illnesses,” Dennis Poust, executive director of the conference, said in a release. “The law recently was expanded yet again, this time to allow people with mental illness, like depression or anorexia, to be approved for assisted suicide or euthanasia. This latest expansion, originally planned for this month, will go into effect in 2027.”

This legislative session marks the ninth consecutive year the bill has been introduced. The bill has never left committee or been brought to the floor for a vote in either house. State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Tuesday morning said there was no particular reason the bill had not come to vote.

“As I say to the medical aid and dying folks, I just think that as a culture and as a country, there has not been a lot of conversation about dying. Certainly, around the COVID-era there was a lot of conversation, sadly, about dying. And we’re at that post-COVID time and I think people are starting to consider it more, but it’s just not the conversation that we could have had. It’s not a conversation that we won’t have, because I think people are more conscious and more comfortable having those discussions and I’m sure we will have it, as well.”

Former Schenectady County Commissioner of Public Health Services Dr. David Pratt spoke in support of the legislation at the state Capitol. He said his time working in intensive care units made him consider, as a doctor, that there is not always a lot to be done for some patients at the end of their lives.

“In my own patient practice, I was a pulmonary specialist. I had people take their own lives because of the extent of their suffering — and not in pleasant ways,” Pratt said. “One man took his life with a shotgun. Terrible thing for trauma on his family, trauma on him. So, I began to think about the end of life and what is a logical thing about at the end of life that we could do beyond what you’re currently doing.

He said he also researched Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which had its 25-year anniversary last fall, while coming to support the bill.

“So, between the experience of Oregon [law] and my experience with watching patients in my practice suffer, I changed my mind and became a supporter, and I’ve been supportive for the past nine years.”