Gains Made In Fight Against Assisted Suicide

Last week brought two positive developments in the movement to oppose physician-assisted suicide.

The first piece of good news comes from Albany. On Wednesday, May 4, the New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide (NYAAAS) welcomed doctors and allied health professionals to Albany to make the medical case against doctor-assisted death. The doctors held a press conference in the Legislative Office Building and visited several legislative offices. NYCF deeply appreciates the thoughtful, eloquent arguments advanced by the doctors, as well as the sacrifices they made in taking time away from work to assist with this important legislative effort.

The second piece of good news comes from the New York courts. On May 3, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department released a decision in the case of Myers v. Schneiderman. In this case, advocates of physician-assisted suicide argued that New York’s existing ban on assisted suicide violated the New York State Constitution; alternatively, the plaintiffs argued that the ban did not apply to physician-assisted suicide. The Appellate Division found in favor of the defendants and upheld the existing law.

This ruling is a victory for the Constitution of the State of New York, and for the important proposition that human life does not become less valuable or less worthy of protection due to a terminal diagnosis. The Appellate Division, First Department should be applauded for declining the plaintiffs’ invitation to rewrite the Penal Law. Nothing in the Constitution of the State of New York creates a fundamental right to physician-assisted suicide. Furthermore, New York’s existing ban on assisted suicide is entirely rational, as it safeguards human life and protects vulnerable persons. As the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law stated in 1994, during the administration of then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, “the ban against assisted suicide and euthanasia shores up the notion of limits in human relationships. It reflects the gravity with which we view the decision to take one’s own life or the life of another, and our reluctance to encourage or promote” assisted suicide.

The Appellate Division’s decision is in harmony with the 1997 decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793 (1997), which rejected a challenge to New York’s assisted suicide ban under the Constitution of the United States. New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms calls upon the New York Court of Appeals to either decline to hear an appeal from the decision in Myers or to affirm the Appellate Division’s decision. The plaintiffs in Myers should not be allowed to seek a judicial end-run simply because they have failed to advance their ill-advised agenda in the Legislature.