Lawmakers in Albany revisit 'aid in dying' bill

ALBANY, N.Y. (WROC-TV) - Lawmakers in Albany are revisiting a sensitive subject on Monday – the right to die with the assistance of a physician.

The “aid in dying” legislation has been reintroduced after it failed to pass either chamber last year.

Susan Rahn, woman facing terminal cancer, returned to Albany to make her case for this bill to be passed.

"Pain has always been a very sensitive spot for me,” Rahn said. “I've already been on fentanyl, which is the highest narcotic you can be on and it didn't really work all that well for me, so I would like to have another option when my end of life arrives."

Some call it assisted suicide, and some call it medical aid in dying. Either way, it's an issue whose name is even controversial.

“This bill is not assisted suicide,” said Bonnie Edelstein, Albany director of Death with Dignity. “Suicide is something else entirely, and we're very sensitive to this language.”

Death with Dignity advocates distinguish suicide as when someone who could otherwise live chooses to die, usually because of mental illness.

Advocates were in Albany on Monday to reintroduce a bill that would allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults to end their own lives – a bill that's not sitting well with some local disability rights advocates.

“Our concern is that people who are already in a depressed state because of the cancer or other experiences they’re having, instead of receiving help to live, they’re being given help to die,” said Stephanie Woodward, of the Center for Disability Rights..

The bill would only apply to those who are expected to live fewer than 6 months, but Woodward says she fears the bill leaves room for issues to arise.

“Another fear is that people will be coerced or abused into assisted suicides,” she said.

Woodward says she believes the argument of preventing pain in the terminally ill is not a valid one.

“It’s not necessary, because we have enough pain treatment that no one should have to die in pain,” Woodward said.

But medical aid in dying advocates say that not all suffering can be relieved with medication, and that autonomy is a central issue – patients having the right to decide what they're comfortable enduring.

“If someone who knows they are dying is suffering in a way that cannot be relieved, which does happen,” said Edelstein. “We believe they should have the option to hasten their death.”

Advocates for End of Life Choices New York are also advocating for the bill, saying that the six other states with similar bills have shown that it works and is abuse free.

“I think it's unfortunate that there's opposition to the bill now,” said David Leven of End of Life Choices New York. “There was understandable opposition raised some 20 years ago, but now we have evidence from Oregon and Washington from over two decades.”

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