New York Gets in on Right to Die Legislation Debate

Later this year California will become the fourth state to legalize doctor assisted suicide and New York is one of a handful contemplating whether to follow their lead. NY1's Erin Billups takes a look at the argument underway and filed the following report.

To supporters of right to die legislation being debated in Albany, the case for allowing terminally ill New Yorkers to take their own lives is clear. 

"When suffering becomes unbearable, each of us should have the right to decide how we are going to die," says David Leven, Executive Director of End of Life Choices New York.

The Aide in Dying bill would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to anyone certified by two doctors as terminally ill with less than six months to live.

One doctor who supports the law, Dr. Timothy Quill, Professor of Medicine, Psychiatry and Medical Humanities at University of Rochester School of Medicine, says he treated a cancer patient who chose to starve himself to death.

"It took him 10 days to die. It was the best of all the bad options we have in New York. Had he lived in a place where this is permissible he would have taken this and I think died in a way that had more meaning for him," says Quill.

The patient would decide when to take the medication, protecting doctors and nurses from any liability or professional discipline.

Proponents say it's no different than a patient's current right to stop life-sustaining treatment.

But Julie Maury, a disability rights advocate for the group Not Dead Yet, argues that legalizing assisted suicide could result in sick people being pressured by doctors or even their families to take their own lives.

"The case that most of the media presents is always the perfect scenario: They have a loving doctor, a loving family, everything is done like in the movies. But often times you’ll see elder abuses one in 10 in this country," she says.

Opponents also say there's no need for assisted suicide because terminally ill New Yorkers already can chose to be sedated if they're in extreme pain. 

"There’s no regulation, there’s no follow up with them, they just take it home. They can be coerced to taking them, they can take it early because they’re not feeling well at that particular time. It’s gravely dangerous," says J.J. Hanson of the group New York State Alliance Against Assisted Suicide.

It's unclear yet, whether the legislation will face a vote in either chamber of the state house this year. Governor Andrew Cuomo has not taken a position on it. 

But it's an issue that likely won't go away.

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