By Chris Haring

As the Medical Aid in Dying Act sits in the New York legislature, right-to-die advocates from nearby New Jersey and Washington, D.C. share their experiences.

With less than a month left in the 2024 legislative session, New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act (A995/S2445) faces an uncertain future, despite widespread public support and recent key endorsements

However, the resolve of the right-to-die movement remains steadfast, committed to the principles of dignity and autonomy through expanded end-of-life options in New York and elsewhere.

In a commentary for Albany’s Times Union, two physicians intimately familiar with end-of-life care and assisted dying – Dr. Deborah Pasik and Dr. Sonja Richmond – exemplified this commitment as they took the time to share their experiences as aid-in-dying practitioners, highlighting the transformative nature of medical aid in dying and its profound impact on patients’ end-of-life care.

After New Jersey passed Death with Dignity, Dr. Pasik delayed her retirement

Dr. Pasik was on the verge of retirement when New Jersey legalized physician-assisted death in 2019, and she found herself unexpectedly drawn back into the fray. Recognizing the urgent need for aid-in-dying educators and providers in the state, she established the nonprofit New Jersey Death with Dignity.

In her commentary, she recalled her patients, who, she says, “were committed to living out their lives as long as possible and then having the option of a peaceful, humane death of their choosing if they deemed that their suffering had become intolerable.” 

She added, “Many expressed their gratitude towards me by thanking me for saving their lives. That’s the most profound thing a terminally ill patient can say. What they’re saying is that I’ve lifted this burden of anxiety and fear from their shoulders, so they can move on with their life – as long or short as it is – without this lingering terror of what the future holds.”

Many patients will go to great lengths to access medical aid in dying

Dr. Richmond, a hospice medical director at VITAS Healthcare in Washington D.C., recounted the experience of a patient who moved back to D.C. with his partner when its Death with Dignity Act took effect in 2017. 

With the patient’s incurable cancer progressing rapidly, she worked with his care team to ensure that he could use medical aid in dying before he lost the ability to self-administer the medication. “It is all about letting individuals who are dying make their own end-of-life care decisions – as they make all their health care decisions – in consultation with family and medical professionals,” she said.

The stories shared by Dr. Pasik and Dr. Richmond illustrate the transformative power of aid-in-dying laws and their positive impact on end-of-life care. As the debate around medical aid in dying unfolds in states like New York, their experiences offer invaluable insights into the positive impact such legislation can have on patients, families, and healthcare providers alike.

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