The state of New York is one of the latest to consider embracing assisted suicide. Senate Bill S3151A, or the Medical Aid in Dying Act, was originally introduced in 2017, but died in committee in March of 2018. Another version failed in 2019, yet Assemblyman Kevin Cahill has announced his intentions to resubmit the bill for consideration in 2021 — and one Planned Parenthood political action affiliate is showing its support.
Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts (PPESA) released its 2021 legislative priorities, which largely consisted of expanding abortion — but buried at the bottom was a passage linking abortion and assisted suicide under the “bodily autonomy” umbrella.
The right to bodily autonomy and self-determination is not constrained to one aspect of being, but rather the spectrum of life. PPESA supports passage of the Medical Aid in Dying Act, to provide adults with the agency to make end-of-life decisions for themselves, with dignity and compassion.
The notion of the “spectrum of life” adopted in Planned Parenthood’s wording bears a striking similarity to language used by the pro-life movement, which advocates for protecting human beings from womb to tomb. The difference, however, is that Planned Parenthood is arguing for the right to kill human beings at any age, from womb to tomb.
Cahill is looking to have the New York legislature approve a bill that would mandate the state Department of Health to study assisted suicide, the first step towards legalizing doctor-facilitated death. Yet doctors and even the New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide have been protesting the assisted suicide bills in New York. Speaking before the Senate last year, these groups noted the myriad issues with allowing doctors to kill their patients.
Dr. Matthew Lynch, a neurologist, criticized the lack of safeguards in the bill, as well as the lack of training required for doctors to participate. “Just because a person is unimpaired when consenting to a script doesn’t mean they won’t be when they decide to take it,” he said before the Senate. “If I want to prescribe opioids in New York, I have to take a three hour course every three years; if I want to prescribe medical marijuana, I have to take a course and register with the Health Department. But if I want to prescribe death under this bill, I don’t need any specific training.”
Palliative care specialist Dr. Mary-Ellen Edmiston asked lawmakers why they aren’t providing better options for sick and dying New Yorkers, and instead are simply focusing on death. “Hospice and palliative care as a medical specialty exists to help patients with life-limiting illness, experience the best quality of life possible as they face the reality of their own impending death,” she said. “There are alternatives to unwilling suffering. We hope to provide more aid in living rather than more aid in dying.”
Also criticizing the bill was Dr. Gregory Weston, an infectious disease specialist who argued that this would give insurance companies incentive to refuse payment for expensive treatments. “Doctor-assisted suicide is especially dangerous for those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, isolated, the elderly, and living with disabilities,” he said. “Those who are already marginalized and discriminated by our health care system.”
Kristen Hanson, whose husband J.J. Hanson publicly opposed assisted suicide during his fight with brain cancer, organized the rally,and spoke on his behalf. “Thankfully J.J. did not end his own life, but he said if he had those pills with him he might have taken them, and you cannot undo that,” she said, explaining that her husband lived over three years longer than doctors had originally predicted. Hanson, a former Marine, suffered from the same form of brain cancer as assisted suicide advocate Brittany Maynard, and openly spoke about the pressure legal assisted suicide places on people like him. He also criticized Maynard for using her illness as a means to legalize doctor-facilitated death, calling it “a bad example for others who had this form of brain cancer, explaining that “fewer people going into clinical trials” actually “removes a large part of the ability to fight against disease.”
Yet Hanson fought bravely, and never stopped speaking out about how people who choose not to die are still living full lives. His wife now carries on his legacy for him. “I was told you don’t have an option,” he said in an interview. “You can die dignified if you commit suicide…. To me it just doesn’t make sense. It’s kind of a reflection of where our society is.”
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