Physician assisted suicide should remain illegal in NY

To the editor:

As a doctor who’s treated older patients and others with significant disabilities, I’m appalled by a recent letter slamming New York Center for Disability Rights (NYCDR). The physician author supports a bill that helps disabled people kill themselves. Unfortunately, it’s typical of our profession’s ableism problem. Doctors often don’t understand disability, believe life with a disability is not worth living, and feel uncomfortable having people with disabilities in their practice, as a recent Harvard Study reveals.

Assisted suicide laws put people with disabilities at great risk of deadly harm and discrimination, which is why NYCDR and every major national disability rights organization in the nation that has a position is opposed. The American Medical Association is also opposed, listing the impossibility of controlling such policy and the danger to vulnerable people as a rationale.

The letter writer seems unaware of both the definition of disability according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and what the words mean in the proposed Bill A995A/S2445A that would legalize assisted suicide here in New York.

The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” All conditions used to qualify people for assisted suicide in Oregon are disabilities listed or described by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. Only people with disabilities are eligible for assisted suicide.

NYCDR points out that treatable, yet not strictly curable disabilities — like diabetes, heart disease and anorexia — have all been listed as underlying (supposedly) terminal illnesses in states that have legalized this ill-advised public policy. A person can stop routine disease management and qualify for assisted suicide when lack of treatment causes a six month or less prognosis.

It’s not only NYCDR that wants to protect disabled people. A group of liberal lawyers and progressive patients’ rights groups are suing the state of California to overturn the assisted suicide law there, rightfully arguing that these public policies violate the protections in the ADA.

Bill A995A/S2445A gives no additional rights to patients — New York does not criminalize suicide. The bill gives participating medical professionals complete criminal, civil and professional immunity for helping certain patients kill themselves. Otherwise, they could go to jail, get sued by the family, and lose their medical licenses.

Which patients get poison pills and suicide instructions? Disabled people with a six-month prognosis. Older adults, people with disabilities, and historically neglected groups already experience poorer outcomes in our broken, profit-driven healthcare system. The subtle and, at times, not so subtle pressure for them to die is systemic and intensely demoralizing. A public policy that offers assisted suicide instead of suicide prevention is criminal. It should stay that way.

Sally White, MD

North Bangor


New York Center for Disability Rights: https://cdrnys.org/assisted-suicide/

Recent Harvard study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8722582/

“Every major national disability rights organization”: https://dredf.org/public-policy/assisted-suicide/national-disability-organizations-that-oppose-the-legalization-of-assisted-suicide/

Bil lA995A/S2445A: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2023/A995/amendment/A



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