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Advocates of New York’s Medical Aid in Dying press for passage in Plattsburgh

New York state Capitol
Jim Levulis

Representatives from a group supporting New York’s proposed Medical Aid in Dying are making stops across the state to encourage supporters to lobby their representatives in Albany to pass the bill when the legislative session begins in January. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports on a recent Plattsburgh rally.

The Medical Aid in Dying Act would revise the state’s public health law to allow a terminally ill patient to request medication to self-administer for the purpose of ending their life if safeguards outlined in the law are followed.

Compassion and Choices is a national group working to get such laws passed in states across the country. Senior Campaign Director Corinne Carey is coordinating the group’s efforts in New York. During a roundtable discussion at the Plattsburgh United Methodist Church she said it’s important that people not be afraid of the proposal.

“When this law passes nothing will change for people who don’t believe in medical aid in dying. It is entirely voluntary. The dying person is in the driver’s seat from the initial request to the ingestion of the medication. No doctor, no hospice, no health care provider has to participate in medical aid in dying if they don’t believe in it. And no patient has to request it.”

Now retired, former 115th District Republican Assemblymember Janet Duprey was one of the first to sign on as a co-sponsor when the bill was first introduced in 2015.

“For the past seven years I have been passionate about trying to get this legislation passed so that people have the ability to make their end of life choices as they wish. I watched both of my parents go through excruciatingly painful and disturbing end of life decisions. And my dad, 1994, died of mesothelioma. The pain was uncontrollable even by hospice. There was nothing they could do. So I’ve been passionate about this. I feel strongly that people should have the right to have their choice.”

Duprey retired from the Assembly at the end of 2016 and has continued to lobby her former colleagues to pass the Medical Aid in Dying bill. She plans to continue her efforts in Albany during the upcoming session.

“Death is not an easy thing for people to talk about. I’ve had people say to me ‘well if I die’ and my comment usually is nobody leaves this world alive. So it’s not a question of if, it’s when. And unless they’ve had the personal experience they don’t always understand how important it is and it’s easy to not want to have to think about it or talk about it. But people who are in that position deserve to have the right to have the best care they can have, to have it under their terms. You know they have to be mentally capable. They have to be in charge of their own faculties in order for this to take place.”

Ten states, including Vermont, plus Washington D.C. have medical aid in dying laws.

Opponents include the Catholic Church and some advocates for disabled people who say it is morally wrong to end one’s own life, and that they worry the law could be abused and used to hasten the deaths of severely disabled individuals.

Plattsburgh resident Nancy Murphy became an advocate for passage of New York’s bill after her sister took advantage of Vermont’s law.

“Our grieving for her is mixed with admiration for her determination and for her courage and also with pride that our family came together to honor her decision and to support her. I wish that everyone could have the option to have a peaceful, loving death like that.”

At the end of New York’s 2022 legislative session the bill had 72 sponsors.

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