In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:
- Not Dead Yet rallies at New York high court against assisted suicide
Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.
NOT DEAD YET RALLIES AT NEW YORK HIGH COURT AGAINST ASSISTED SUICIDE
- Disability rights activists from across New York state rallied against assisted suicide at the state’s highest court on Tuesday, May 30 as the court heard arguments in a case seeking to legalize the practice.
- The case was brought in 2015 by a group of doctors, patients, and assisted-suicide proponents to challenge the state law prohibiting assisted suicide. The plaintiffs lost at the first two levels for a number of reasons:
- Despite the plaintiffs’ use of the term “aid in dying” the lower courts found that the practice amounted to assisted suicide, which is what is prohibited by the state law.
- The assisted suicide prohibition does not violate anyone’s constitutional rights, as decided in the Vacco v. Quill case in 1997. The patients’ rights to self-determination is invoked when the person refuses treatment, and the prohibition poses no “due process threat” to doctors.
- The courts recognized a difference between refusing medical treatment (which is an established right) and assisted suicide (which is not).
- This is a matter for the legislature, not the courts, to decide.
- There is no evidence of a consensus in society that assisted suicide is a good idea.
- The appellate court distinguished the New York case from the Carter case in Canada by explaining that Canada did not rely on the centuries-old legal tradition that there is no such thing as a right to take one’s own life, and that Canada had also found a liberty interest in assisted suicide that U.S. courts have not recognized.
- The courts restated concerns presented in a 1994 State government task force report about the “risks that could be presented to the elderly, poor, socially disadvantaged, and those without access to good medical care; and the role of treatable symptoms such as pain and depression in creating a desire for lethal medications.” The study also found that “it could open the door to euthanasia of those incapable of giving consent.”
- Not Dead Yet and ten other disability rights organizations filed amicus briefs at both levels of appeal.
- New York attorney Adam Prizio handled the filing on behalf of the disability organizations. “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,” said Prizio. “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.”
- Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with DREDF, summarizes concerns about a government authorized, medically administered public policy of assisted suicide as follows: “If assisted suicide is legalized, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse. No safeguards have ever been enacted or proposed that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone.”
- In its brief, NDY argued:
- People with disabilities are the class of people who will be affected if a right to assisted suicide is found;
- Assisted suicide is part of the long and tragic history of discrimination against people with disabilities;
- The plaintiffs advocate a policy that denies people with disabilities the benefit of the state’s suicide prevention protections;
- Denying the benefit of suicide prevention programs, as well as vigorous enforcement of homicide laws, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act;
- Assisted suicide poses serious, unavoidable threats to people with disabilities that the state has a significant interest in preventing.
- There are no adequate safeguards that can protect people with disabilities from the threat posed by assisted suicide;
- There is no way to ensure that persons are not unduly pressured by family members because of financial, emotional or other reasons;
- The assumption that suicide is a “rational” choice for a person with a disability is not valid;
- The uncertainty of diagnosing “terminal” illness means many people with non-terminal disabilities may be killed;
- The assumption that disability intrinsically deprives life of dignity and value is not valid.
- A ruling is expected this summer.