Once again, Catholics of New York state are being urged to oppose proposed legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication doses to terminally ill patients.
Through hundreds of signed petitions in 2020, Catholics in the Diocese of Rochester previously let legislators know that they did not want physician-assisted suicide to be legalized in New York state.
But that was then.
Assisted-suicide legislation looms, despite Catholic opposition
The law proposed in 2020 did not make it out of the state Senate and Assembly’s health committees in that legislative session, but similar legislation — A995/S2445 — was proposed again this year and currently is being reviewed by the health committees of both chambers.
“People did reach out. They signed petitions, and my concern is they think that it’s stopped,” said Shannon Kilbridge, life-issues coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester.
“It has not stopped. We do think this is a bill that has a potential to move out of committee. … (S)o we are asking people to call — not just send an email — but call their representatives.”
The New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops in public-policy matters, has a section of its website that will help people find contact information for their elected representatives, she added. The website also offers resources about the so-called Medical Aid in Dying Act and the Catholic conference’s opposition to it.
Legalizing assisted suicide for some devalues life for all
Legalizing assisted suicide devalues human life, according to the Catholic conference’s Feb. 1 memo of opposition to the bill.
“Implementing assisted suicide as an accepted medical ‘treatment’ sends the message that our most vulnerable populations are not worth the resources it might take to improve their lives. Those most at risk of being taken advantage of and discarded by the health system will be endangered further,” the Catholic conference stated.
Legalizing assisted suicide also would perch New York at the top of a slippery slope, the conference noted. Although the proposed New York legislation says only patients suffering from terminal illnesses would qualify for the life-ending medications, one doesn’t have to look far for similar laws that were changed after passage to include patients not facing terminal illness.
“Right now in Canada, which arguably has a more robust universal health-care system than we do, they’re starting to see people — not patients, but doctors and families — pushing for assisted suicide as an alternative to more expensive treatments,” said Kilbridge, who also is associate director of the diocesan Department of Pastoral Services.
Language of the bill is dangerously vague in several areas
The language of the proposed New York legislation is dangerously vague, Kilbridge added. The text of the bill, for example, defines “terminal illness or condition” as “an incurable and irreversible illness or condition that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, produce death within six months.”
The bill does not give consideration to whether effective treatment is available for a given condition or illness, Kilbridge said. There are many diseases, such as diabetes, which are deadly if left untreated, but for which effective treatments are readily available, she said.
And while the bill requires that any unused life-ending medications must be delivered to qualified facilities for disposal, it does not outline a process to ensure compliance with this stipulation, she added.
“There’s no process of accountability for it. There’s no follow-up,” Kilbridge said. “We have this massive drug problem in our state … and yet we are talking about a law that would allow these end-of-life drugs to enter our community very easily.”
Law could lead to coercion, more suicides
The bill also explicitly permits someone who stands to benefit financially from the patient’s death to serve as one of the two required witnesses to a patient’s request for life-ending medication, Kilbridge said, noting that this could lead to patients being coerced to end their lives.
And presenting physician-assisted suicide as an option permitted by the state also sends mixed messages about suicide, especially to teens, she added.
“This is not a good path forward. We’re better off addressing the underlying issues of better access to health care, better access to end-of-life medication and palliative care, and better support for patients and their families during this time, than trying to push something that is such a danger to the most vulnerable members of our community,” Kilbridge said, noting that the diocese’s LifeROC.org website contains resources on end-of-life issues.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For information on other proposed legislation that would affect the culture of life in New York, visit https://bit.ly/LifeIssuesNY.