Assisted Suicide Bill: Bad Policy, Poor Legislation


With legislators and the governor wrapping up the state budget in Albany this week, lawmakers will turn their attention to a range of other issues—including some controversial measures that have been shelved over the years either for lack of political support or, more recently, the virus-related crisis.

A push to legalize assisted suicide is one such long-running controversial issue. A version has been introduced in the Assembly this session as the Medical Aid in Dying Act and it’s one that the Church in New York opposes strongly and will be watching closely.

The Catholic Church commitment to the sanctity of human life undergirds our opposition to this proposal, as it does to our views on the full range of human experience—whether it’s opposition to abortion and the death penalty, support for immigrants and other vulnerable populations, and a commitment to social justice, equality and an end to racism, among other things.

To be sure, these all are matters discussed and acted upon in the political sphere. But for us, they’re moral imperatives.

The pro-life reason to oppose assisted suicide is reason enough.

Even in purely practical terms, however, this bill fails the very vulnerable terminally ill individuals it purports to help.

While proponents argue that the bill contains safeguards which protect these patients, a close examination of the bill’s language reveals inadequate protections for those most at risk of abuse, and lower medical standards than elsewhere in the Public Health Law and contains extremely weak conscience protections for both health care professionals and health care institutions.

Among its many flaws, its definition of terminal illness is ambiguous and vague, defined as a medically confirmed illness that would lead to death within six months. But it does not specify whether death would be expected with or without treatment. Numerous chronic illnesses, including diabetes, could cause death in a short time if the patient refused reasonable treatment.

Also, no psychological screening or counseling is required, which could result in a clinically depressed person receiving suicidal drugs when an anti-depressant regimen might relieve their despair, nor would there be any way to accurately track such a law’s effects because the cause of death would be listed as the underlying disease rather than assisted suicide.

Cardinal Dolan has called the talk of assisted suicide a “false compassion” that should be even more apparent in the wake of our shared pandemic experience, with more than a half-million deaths nationwide and nearly 50,000 in New York alone.

He is right about that.

In a recent pastoral letter, published in Catholic New York’s last issue, the cardinal wrote, “Now is the time to make sure that we have learned the right lessons” from the pandemic, and realize that “the last thing we need is more unnecessary death.”

The answer to those who are suffering, he wrote, is not to help them end their life. The answer is true compassion and presence with those who suffer.

We ask that you join the cardinal in his prayer that “assisted suicide will go nowhere in New York and that all people know they are loved and not alone.”

“Suicide is hardly a happy death, but an act of loneliness, worthlessness, and desperation.”

New York state can, and must, do better than this.