Two Disability Advocates Speak at NY Press Conference Opposing Assisted Suicide Bills

The New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide held a press conference on Tuesday, March 8, to discuss “Why New York Progressives Should Oppose Assisted Suicide.”  The NY Alliance media advisory listed the scheduled speakers and described the event as follows:

JJ Hanson, President, Patients’ Rights Action Fund
Michael Burgess, Spokesperson, NY Alliance Against Assisted Suicide
Meghan Schoeffling, Policy Analyst, NY Association on Independent Living
Beth Mahar, Director of Member Services, Hospice & Palliative Care Association of NYS
Adam Prizio, Manager of Government Affairs, Center for Disability Rights

Albany, NY – On Tuesday, March 8, 2016 at 1:00 PM, in the LCA Press Room, Room 130 of the LOB, the New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide will lay out the progressive case against physician-assisted suicide.

Speakers will include a terminal brain cancer patient and representatives from the disability, aging, and hospice communities. They will outline numerous concerns with the legislative proposals (S.5814-A/A.5261-C and S.3685/A.2129-A), including:

  • Risks of coercion and abuse of elderly and vulnerable populations
  • Discrimination against people with disabilities
  • Possibility of misdiagnoses
  • The role of depression and hopelessness
  • Fracturing of doctor-patient relationship
  • Suicide contagion
  • Absence of safeguards and lack of accountability
  • Need to promote “aid-in-living”: hospice and palliative care

The New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide is an alliance of disability rights, healthcare, civil rights, faith-based and patient advocacy organizations dedicated to preventing the legalization of assisted suicide in New York.

The Albany Times Union covered this press conference about opposition to bills establishing a state sponsored program of suicide facilitated by medical providers, leading with a good title – Physician-Assisted Suicide Faces Pushback– and using some quotes as well as describing some arguments against the bills pending in New York.

Inexplicably, however, the Times Union completely omitted two speakers, Meghan Schoeffling and Adam Prizio, who represented state disability groups – the NY Association on Independent Living (NYAIL) and Center for Disability Rights (CDR), respectively. Neither of these speakers were quoted, nor were they or their organizations even mentioned in the Times Union article.  Online photos featured people with obvious disabilities, but the article otherwise ignored them.

And it’s not that the article ran out of space.  The Times Union spent three paragraphs talking about a recent visit by an out-of-state proponent of legalizing assisted suicide.  They even found space to mention someone in the room who didn’t speak:  “Though no religious leaders spoke at Tuesday’s press conference, the Rev. Jason McGuire — executive director of New Yorker’s Family Research and New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms — was in attendance.”

In contrast, coverage by WNYT Channel 13 fairly represented the disability opponents, who were visibly the most prominent group present:  ‘Death with Dignity’ opponents argue for better end-of-life care.

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Times Union drank assisted suicide proponents’ Kool-Aid, framing the issue as a dispute between “compassionate progressives and the religious right.”  It’s a false depiction, and disability rights advocates don’t fit that story line.  In fact, Albany politicians well know that NYAIL and CDR consistently advocate to protect Medicaid and shift its long term care dollars from institutional to home and community based services to ensure the freedoms of seniors and people with disabilities from being victimized by corporate nursing home greed.  Adam Prizio’s statement expressed some of these struggles:

Assisted suicide advocacy comes from a place of great privilege, although proponents may not think so. It comes from a place where the law only ever works as intended. From a place where families are always safe; where caregivers always have the best interest of the family member at heart; a place where people do not have to fight for their right to live a full and independent life in the community. It comes from a place that can afford to discount the financial reality that assisted suicide will be cheaper than treatment, even cheaper than palliative care.

These advocates have held countless non-violent disability civil rights protests in the capital and no one would confuse them with the religious right.  To read all of Adam Prizio’s statement, go here.

There’s no excuse for the Times Union’s exclusion of disability advocates from coverage of this press conference on why progressives should reject proposals to legalize assisted suicide.  Legislators and voters deserve the whole story, not the thinly veiled bias we saw this week.



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