‘It’s a wonderful blessing’

Vermontville woman lobbies in Albany for medical aid in dying law

Vermontville resident Nancy Murphy speaks in Albany in support of the Medical Aid in Dying Act on Tuesday. (Provided photo — James Abendroth)

VERMONTVILLE — When Nancy Murphy’s sister Joan Kline died on Aug. 9, 2015, Murphy said it was a “beautiful” thing. She had a terminal cancer, but through Vermont’s medical aid in dying law, Murphy said she was able to die peacefully at her home in Middlebury, holding hands with her family as they toasted to her 85 years of life.

Murphy wants New Yorkers to have access to the death her sister had. On Tuesday, she traveled from Vermontville down to Albany with four other members of Adirondack Voters for Change to lobby for the state to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act at a press conference sponsored by the MAiD advocacy group Compassion and Choices.

Medical aid in dying, which allows terminally ill, mentally capable adults with six months or less to live to request a prescription from their doctor for medication that will end their life. Murphy said it is a way to allow people to die in their homes, surrounded by family, when they want to and the way they want to.

“That is an option that I think every terminally ill person should have. Not that everyone will choose it, but it’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s a wonderful bonding with family. It’s a wonderful blessing for the family. What a blessing for her and what a blessing for us.”

Vermont, New Jersey, Maine, Oregon, Washington, Montana, California, Colorado, Hawaii and New Mexico, as well as Washington, D.C. have authorized medical aid in dying. Advocates have tried for years to get it authorized in New York. So far, 80 state legislators in the state Senate and Assembly have co-sponsored this year’s MAiD Act.

Joan Kline, right, smiles with her daughter Susan Longe in her garden in Middlebury, Vermont. Nancy Murphy, Kline’s sister and a Vermontville resident, lobbied for New York to adopt a medical aid in dying law this week, saying Kline’s choice to end her life through MAiD in 2015 was a blessing for her whole family. (Provided photo)

It is a controversial law. Life is viewed as precious by most humans and death is final. But to Murphy, death can also be a beautiful thing.

“In Vermont, my sister chose a beautiful, peaceful transition allowing her to bond with her family at the end in a way that is beyond description,” Murphy said at the press conference. “In Vermontville, New York, I do not yet have that option. That is an outrage that must be righted this year.”

One of the concerns critics of the act have is about people being coerced into agreeing to MAiD, or it being used against certain portions of the population, such as the disabled or elderly.

The New York Center for Disability Rights fiercely opposes MAiD, saying it “targets and devalues disabled lives.”

“The bill defines any person who would die within six months without treatment as terminally ill. This expansive definition includes a great many people with disabilities who can happily live for decades with proper treatment,” according to the center’s “Assisted Suicide” page. “This is a definition and a policy which leaves disabled people wide open to abuse.”

From left, Adirondack Voters for Change members Suzanne Gold, Jim Abendroth, Phil Newton, Jay Federman and Nancy Murphy spoke in Albany in support of the Medical Aid in Dying Act on Tuesday. (Provided photo)

Assemblymember Anna Kelles, D-Cortland/Tompkins counties, said at the press conference the act has numerous “safeguards” in place. These are “to ensure that patients are mentally capable, are making the decision of their own free will, and ensures that patients are protected from coercion or abuse in making this difficult decision,” she said.

“Ten other states and Washington, D.C. have similar laws without a single instance of abuse or coercion, including Oregon, from which this bill is modeled and that has been in effect since 1997,” Kelles said. “A further 11 states have active legislation pending.”

But the Center for Disability Rights says these safeguards are “poor” and “unenforceable,” with no witnesses required at death. They have concerns about family members doctor shopping until they find one to give an ill family member a fatal dose to collect inheritance. The center says MAiD is a way for insurance companies to cut costs by offering death over treatment. Also, they point out, physicians can misjudge quality of life.

Bill co-sponsor Assemblymember Tony Simone, D-Manhattan, said people suffering from terminal conditions in New York currently have the right to refuse medical treatment that would prolong their lives, but he believes patients should also have the right to “end their suffering however they choose.”

In a November 2023 poll of 803 registered New York voters, conducted by Siena College, 58% of respondents supported MAiD, 30% opposed it and 12% did not answer either way.

Joan Kline, middle, sits with her three kids and daughter-in-law, from left, Susan Longe, Tim Kline, Phil Kline and Claudia Six, in the month she died, August 2015. (Provided photo)

Joan’s choice

In 2015, Murphy attended the Burlington Jazz Festival with Joan, as they did every year. They hadn’t met in person in a while and when she walked in, she could see there was something wrong with her sister.

After the festival, Joan went for a regular appointment with her doctor. Two days later she was diagnosed with a terminal, incurable, ovarian cancer. Murphy said she was given just months to live.

Vermontville resident Nancy Murphy speaks in Albany in support of the Medical Aid in Dying Act on Tuesday. (Provided photo — James Abendroth)

She immediately asked for MAiD.

“She said ‘I don’t know if I’ll use it, but I want it available,'” Murphy said.

For Joan, this was something that was always “a given” to her. She was a lifelong member of the Hemlock Society, a precursor to organizations like Compassion and Choices. She had thought about death, and her death, all her life. She never knew if she would have the chance to make that choice, but in their family, Murphy said it was always an option.

“It’s a comfort to have it available,” Murphy said.

She had wanted it available in case her pain or suffering became unbearable.

“And it did,” Murphy said.

Joan was able to stay in her house by herself with help for a month. Eventually, Murphy and Joan’s daughter — Susan Longe of Vergennes, Vermont — took on the responsibility of caring for her. The disease was taking over her whole body to the point where she wasn’t able to move.

One day, she told Murphy “Today’s the day.” But first, they needed to get her sons Tim Kline and Phil Kline in from Colorado and California where they lived.

“She looked at me, very determined, and said, ‘OK. Tomorrow.’ Like she was willing to wait one more day and not more,” Murphy said.

The boys flew in at midnight and they gathered in the morning. Murphy told Joan she wanted to toast her.

“She looked at me with this sly smile and said, ‘Champagne,'” Murphy said.

After a nap and a run to get the champagne and medicine, they all gathered around her bed — Murphy and her husband, Joan’s three children and daughter-in-law, Joan’s best friend and her pastor.

“She sort of shook her head and said ‘Wait a minute! Give me a minute. I’ve got to be awake for this,'” Murphy said.

They cracked open the champagne and lifted a glass to her. They told her how much they loved her. She told them how much she loved them.

“She said she was ready. She said she was content that she had 50 years of marriage, three wonderful children, all the places she’d been and people she’d known and things she’d done. She was satisfied. And she was ready.”

They drank champagne. She drank the medication. They held her hands. In 20 minutes, Joan was in a deep sleep. In two hours, Joan was gone.

Murphy said she is thankful for the “gift” Joan gave them of being able to see her die in peace and with her loved ones around her.

“So many people witness the perfectly god-awful last few weeks and days of their loved one’s life,” Murphy said. “When you see that, you never forget it. You think about your loved one and you try to think about all the good, positive things that have happened. And you remember that death. … Of course we’re grieving for her, but we’re doing it with admiration for her courage and for her determination. And with pride that we were able to be there for her and support her decision.”

Murphy said Joan was a homemaker who was an active volunteer in her church, a big birdwatcher, a lovely gardener and a “devotee of the Green Bay Packers.”

In the nine years since Joan’s death, Murphy has been active in advocating for MAiD, carrying on her sister’s cause.

“Most laws tell people something they have to do, something you can’t do or you have to do,” Murphy said. “This law doesn’t require anybody to do anything. … All the law does is give somebody who is terminally ill permission to make this choice.”

Murphy plans to return to Albany on Feb. 6 for another day of lobbying where MAiD advocates will share “stories of peaceful deaths, surrounded by love.”


Seventeen state legislators spoke at the press conference. The speech which stuck out to Murphy the most was from Assemblyman and Rev. Al Taylor, D-Manhattan, who she said, “previously opposed the bill strongly, until he watched his father die in pain.”

“Learn from my experience,” Taylor said on Tuesday. “Don’t wait till it’s you or your parent, spouse or loved one.”

Caring for his father in his final moments “profoundly altered (his) perspective,” he said.

“I’ve come to recognize that empowering individuals with the choice to navigate their last moments with dignity and peace is an embodiment of profound compassion,” Taylor said. “I have intimately observed the excruciating struggles of an individual grappling with terminal illness. The Medical Aid in Dying Act transcends mere legislation for me; it serves as a vital lifeline for those confronting the indescribable agony of unbearable pain.”

The Medical Aid in Dying Act is sponsored in the state Assembly by Assembly Health Committee Chairwoman Amy Paulin, D-Westchester, and sponsored in the senate by state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, D-Manhattan. They said on Tuesday they are working for early passage of the act.

“I’ve talked about the horrific suffering my sister endured at the end of her life countless times during the course of this campaign,” Paulin said. “Watching someone you love suffer is gut-wrenching. But we have an opportunity to offer love and support to terminally ill New Yorkers in their final weeks and days.”

“We understand that this is an issue that only affects a relatively small number of people at any given time,” Hoylman-Sigal said. “We also understand that not every dying New Yorker who would be eligible for medical aid in dying would avail themselves of that option. In fact, history shows that one-third of terminally ill individuals who receive a prescription for medical aid in dying never take it. … This is not a political or partisan issue. It is a human issue that gives people who will imminently die a measure of autonomy over how much pain and suffering they must endure before they die.”

Rev. James Galasinski, the pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canton, spoke about his friend and parishioner, Eileen Raymond. Galasinski said MAiD would have given Raymond more “peace of mind” in her last years.

“Eileen died relatively peacefully in December, but shortly before that, one of her last acts of justice was to meet with Sen. (Dan) Stec, (R-Queensbury) and asked him to support the Medical Aid in Dying Act,” Galasinski said.

Advocates have said in past years that Stec, a member of the Senate Health Committee, has not spoken with them on MAiD.

“Death will touch us all but hopefully not everyone has to suffer,” Galasinski said at the press conference.


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