The Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, will be hearing arguments this week in a case about whether citizens have a legal right to take their own lives through assisted suicide. Last year, the top federal court in Canada concluded that it was a right and assisted suicide is now legal in that country. A state court in Montana established the right there though most states that enacted assisted suicide did so either through their legislatures or through a statewide referendum. Colorado voters approved it last fall and the California legislature approved it in 2015.
Here in New York, chances for legislative passage appear to be over with only three weeks left in the regular session of the Legislature. Even the bill’s advocates with the organization Compassion and Choices have indicated the bill will not pass this year. A year ago the bill passed the Assembly Health Committee by a slim margin. However, there are several new members on the committee this yearand the bill has not been put on a committee agenda. The bill’s sponsors struggled to find enough votes in the committee.
Compassion and Choices did claim progress this year, saying it doubled the number of bill sponsors. They also were successful in getting the Medical Society of the State of New York to study the issue and discuss it with their members. A number of physician members of the Society have been urging this approach because they oppose the Society’s position against the bill. They are hoping to get the Society to take a neutral position. The California Medical Society’s decision to move to a neutral position was a major factor in passage there in 2015.
The New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide,which has included religious, disability and hospice organizations among others kept the pressure on against the bill and had the active support of some members of the Legislature. A number of physicians, disabled activists and citizens wrote letters to the editor and opinion columns in newspapers across the state. Many also lobbied at the Capitol as well.