New York’s Assisted Suicide Case To Be Heard on May 30th

A case pushing New York courts to find a state constitutional right to assisted suicide will be heard in oral argument in the NY Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, next Tuesday, May 30th.

Not Dead Yet filed friend-of-the-court briefs, joined by ten other national and New York state disability rights organizations, at both the Appellate Division and Court of Appeals.

Attorney for the Court of Appeals brief, Adam Prizio, said, “Our basic position is that when some people get suicide prevention while other people get suicide assistance, and the difference is the person’s age, disability or health status, that’s unlawful discrimination. It’s a problem that certain people are being told that others not only agree with their suicide, which is bad enough, but will even help them carry it out. It’s a deadly form of discrimination and, as our brief says, it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The Disability Rights brief was cited by the NY Attorney General’s brief when making the point that “terminal” prognoses are often wrong, a common experience among people with disabilities who have been given such faulty predictions.

Physicians are often unable to accurately ascertain how much time a patient has remaining to live, and not infrequently misdiagnose an illness as terminal. See Physicians Amici Br. at 17-18; Amicus Br. of Not Dead Yet, et al. (“NDY Amici Br.”) at 9, 17; . . .

The Oregon assisted suicide data confirms this “terminal uncertainty” and, moreover, shows that nearly everyone who receives lethal prescriptions in Oregon is disabled. Here is what we know from the Oregon state data:

  • People with the following conditions have been given lethal prescriptions – ALS, heart disease, COPD, benign and uncertain neoplasms, other respiratory diseases, diseases of the nervous system (including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease), musculoskeletal and connective tissue diseases, viral hepatitis, diabetes mellitus, cerebrovascular disease, and alcoholic liver disease.
  • Oregon receives reports on how many people outlive their “terminal prognosis” but have been given lethal prescriptions every year, but the state’s public report does not tell how many, and it destroys the underlying data.
  • The top 5 reasons people are reported to request assisted suicide are disability concerns that have not been addressed but could be: “loss of autonomy” (91 %), “less able to engage in activities” (90%), “loss of dignity” (77 %), “losing control of bodily functions” (47%), and “burden on others” (42 %). So virtually all are disabled!

I was recently interviewed by Zolan Kanno-Youngs for the Wall Street Journal about the case, and quoted as follows:

Some disability organizations argue allowing doctors to assist in one’s death would put the vulnerable at risk. Health officials should prioritize providing the best treatment to the disabled and ill, said Diane Coleman, president and chief executive of Not Dead Yet, a disability-rights group.

“The proper role of health-care providers and other professionals is to be telling people that their lives are worth living whatever they may experience,” said Ms. Coleman, who is 63 years old and has a neuromuscular disability. . . .

Ms. Coleman said regardless of the patient’s condition, helping someone end their life would be aiding a suicide. . . . “Why is our society talking about taking this group—old, ill and disabled people—and carving them out of that policy of suicide prevention,” said Ms. Coleman “To us it seems like here we are being devalued again.” (NEW YORK APPEALS COURT TO HEAR CASE ON DOCTOR AID IN DYING, Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2017.)

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