Growing support across NYS for Medical Aid in Dying Act

Supporters say bill is matter of improving end of life care

– By Gabriel Pietrorazio

Compassion & Choices, a non-profit organization has been coordinating to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act that will be voted upon in Albany this spring.

New York Campaign Director Corinne Carey connected with FingerLakes1.com to speak about her organization’s mobilization of the legislation within the Empire State.

“My organization has been on the ground for more than 30 years working to improve end of life care for people and that doesn’t mean just passing medical aid and dying laws. That means improving access to hospice, you know, ensuring that people have access to the best end of life care,” Carey told FingerLakes1.com.

“Hospice and palliative care improve by having these difficult conversations”

“The reason why this law is so important is that far too many New Yorkers suffer without adequate relief at the end of life. Even the best hospice and palliative care can’t relieve every single person suffering and leading health care providers who deliver palliative care have recognized that across the country,” Carey stated.

Crain’s New York Business reports that New York state is ranked 48th in the nation for offering hospice care and Carey claims that passing the Medical Aid in Dying will enhance hospice services statewide.

“And what we’ve seen in other states that have passed these laws is that hospice and palliative care improve by having these difficult conversations and by opening the door to allow people to talk about the kind of care that they want. The law requires physicians to explain what the alternatives are, and that includes hospice and palliative care and other treatment programs,” she explained.

The prescription of pills prepares the body with an anti-nausea and pro-absorption drug 45 minutes to an hour ahead of consuming a strong sleeping medication that is self-ingested.

The proposed bill specifies that this prescription of pills can be ingested while at home, which comforts patients in a setting where they may be surrounded by family and loved ones.

“It allows people to create a death and dying experience with their families in the privacy of their own homes. They get the prescription, they make a decision about when their suffering has become too great and they take it surrounded by their loved ones at home,” Carey said.

Although the majority of patients primarily ingest the proper dosage at their household residences, facilities can actually forbid the usage of the medication on their premises if they possess moral or religious objections to the medication, but since this a private act they are still allowed to ingest within their households.

While multiple local hospice facilities are located in Geneva, Seneca Falls, Penn Yan, Canandaigua and Victor, access does not seem to be an issue based on Carey’s assessment.

Additionally, the majority of medical insurances providers both private and public including Medicare and Medicaid cover hospice care.

Consequently, Carey contends that the lack of utilized hospice service has been caused by the stigmatization around conversations about death and dying.

“It’s not about availability. It’s not about payment. It’s simply about the conversations that doctors are having with their patients and about the freedom that patients and their families have to talk to their doctors about what they fear about end of life care,” Carey said.

If passed, the proposed legislation would require for doctors and other care clinicians to talk about hospice and palliative care whenever a patient requests for information about the aforementioned healthcare options.

“I think that people should have the right to die in a way that’s consistent with their own faith, their own values and their own beliefs”

In response to a previous story regarding the 2020 New York State Bishops’ Conference Public Policy Weekend, Carey sought to address the opposition’s arguments head-on.

“These are the same exact arguments that were made in 1994 before any state had ever passed a medical aid and dying law, you know, a quarter of a century later and none of the fears that opponents brought up in 1994 have ever come to pass. We have now nine states plus Washington, D.C. that have approved these laws. They’ve been studied. Study after study after study has shown that there is absolutely no risk of coercion, misuse or abuse of these laws, vis-à-vis vulnerable populations,” Carey said.

As for the Catholic Church itself, she strongly believes that the church has no authority over how the state should act when considering policy initiatives.

Carey questioned, “Why should Catholic leaders in the state be telling the rest of the state who may not share their beliefs? Why should they get to tell everyone else what their options are?”

“The Catholic Church can believe whatever it wants. It can teach its congregants, whatever it wants and when this bill passes, absolutely nothing changes for the Catholic Church, or for its congregants. Nothing changes,” Carey continued.


Related Read: Bishops oppose ‘Medical Aid in Dying Act’ in New York


Like many others, Carey was personally impacted by the passing of a loved one in the form of her father, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran passed away after receiving a terminal lung cancer diagnosis.

“I think that people should have the right to die in a way that’s consistent with their own faith, their own values and their own beliefs. I’m actually Catholic. My father never would have chosen to use medical aid and dying. He actually believed in that argument that some Catholics make that suffering is redemptive. My dad died with dignity because he died the way that he wanted to. He did suffer mercifully. He didn’t suffer long. He died at home surrounded by his loved ones. He didn’t even really want to take pain medication. He was a vet, you know, a tough guy. He got to die in a way that was consistent with his faith. All this bill does is allow people to have the death experience that’s consistent with their faith values and beliefs,” she explained.

Most of all, Carey emphasizes that this bill offers all people an opportunity to exercise personal freedom: the ability to choose options in accordance with their own beliefs, not just through Catholic doctrine.

“This bill simply allows the option for people who believe differently, who may believe that God doesn’t want us to suffer who may believe that God gave us free will in order to relieve suffering. So, the Catholic Church can believe all it wants. The key point is that it shouldn’t be telling us how to live our lives and how to die,” Carey continued.

“The legislature doesn’t require doctors to get training”

While Albany may pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act legislation, lawmakers do not set mandates on how doctors shall conduct their practices.

“The legislature doesn’t require doctors to get training,” Carey said.

Rather, the Department of Education, that licenses physicians and sets training requirements establish how clinicians practice medicine within the scope of their knowledge and professional training.

Additionally, the law allows physicians to decline assisting a patient’s request for medical aid in dying at their facility.

Although no care physicians are mandated to train through this legislation or obligated to offer medical aid in dying services to patients, Compassion & Choices is still preparing ahead of the bill vote with an implementation plan by offering presentations throughout New York state at hospitals, hospices, healthcare facilities as well as associations for doctors and hospice providers.

“It is our experience in every state that passes a medical aid in dying act that there is much reluctance in the first year or so among physicians to participate, but that changes as physicians share information with one another about the experience,” Carey stated.

Carey accredits the passing of time, supportive policies within facilities and shared advice among professional colleagues as the core elements that increase participation among physicians in backing physician-assisted suicide.

Those who are interested in scheduling an informational session among physicians and professional associations that represent healthcare providers may email NY@compassionandchoices.org.

“Very few people actually ask for medical aid in dying. Fewer qualify, even fewer receive the prescription; and even fewer take the medication”  

The process to qualify for physician-assisted suicide is extensive, requiring the approval of two doctors who both confirm that the person has a terminal diagnosis, which essentially means that they have an illness that is incurable and irreversible, as the bill stipulates.

In addition to obtaining clearance from medical professionals, the patient must be deemed mentally capable in making this decision on their own accord.

If a medical provider has any doubts about the competency of the patient, they shall then be referred to a mental health care professional for further consideration.

In Carey’s mind, a central component surrounding the purpose of the Medical Aid in Dying Act rests in prioritizing patient autonomy throughout the entire process from start to finish.

“It’s not an either or I think that’s another misconception that opponents make is that it’s not either medical aid in dying or hospice and palliative care. It’s part of a spectrum of quality end of life care,” Carey stated.

In the states where death with dignity care is already available, the actual participation rates among those who qualify as terminally ill patients are minimal according to Carey.

“People have complied with the law. Very few people actually ask for medical aid in dying. Fewer qualify, even fewer receive the prescription and even fewer take the medication. But what we do know is that countless people receive what some people call the palliative benefit of knowing that this option is available,” Carey said.

Although few admittedly seek-out medical aid in dying services within states where the legislation has passed, Carey claims that the bill has gathered strong support in recent polls throughout New York state.

“Two-thirds of New Yorkers actually support this option, and that’s more than two thirds but that number is consistent. from the north country to the Finger Lakes, from Buffalo to Brooklyn, from Long Island to Schenectady, everywhere,” Carey stated.

Instead of being touted as a “downstate Democratic issue” Carey considers this piece of legislation as a “universal desire to have our loved ones be able to avoid suffering at the end of life.”

Those who are interested in relaying their support to lawmakers regarding the Medical Aid in Dying Act may visit www.compassionandchoices.org/50reasonsny2020/.


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