If you have a pet that has a terminal illness, is unable to care for itself and is in constant pain, most people say the compassionate thing to do is to help your beloved companion reach its end of life more quickly.
But if you change the word pet to parent, spouse or other loved one, some say it is not compassion, but murder.
Seven states and the District of Columbia have granted approval for doctors to aid terminally ill patients in dying. New York is not one of them.
But there is state legislation to change that. It would allow a patient with an irreversible illness who is expected to live less than six months to request medication to be self-administered for the purpose of hastening his or her death.
The bill, which was the subject of an Assembly hearing last week, is running into opposition from the lobby for doctors, Roman Catholic bishops and those saying the state does too little to support hospice programs.
The state ban was upheld by the state’s highest court in September 2017 and by the unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997. The nation’s highest court rejected arguments the ban is unconstitutional and suggested that any change in the prohibition would have to be decided by the Legislature in Albany.
National surveys have shown growing support for what supporters call medical aid in dying for those who are in great pain. A Gallup Poll snapshot of voter opinion in June reported that 73 percent of respondents backed assisted suicide, up from 68 percent two years earlier.
New York advocates, led by a group called Compassion & Choices, say there would be sufficient safeguards to prevent patients from being coerced to select suicide as an option.
Under the New York legislation, two doctors would have to confirm that a patient was in his or her dying months and that no coercion exists. Patients who request the medication could also change their mind.
Among those backing the legislation to overturn the ban is state Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, who is carrying the bill in the Senate. Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, has signaled his opposition to the bill. The GOP-led Senate has not advanced the bill.
Dr. Thomas Madjeski, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, urged lawmakers at the Assembly hearing to preserve the legal barrier that makes assisted suicide a crime in New York.
“There are passionate physicians on both sides making well-reasoned arguments,” he told a panel led by Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat and supporter of legalizing assisted suicide.
But based on the “very preliminary” results of a statewide survey of the society’s membership, Madjeski said the society continues to oppose legislation.
Kristen Hanson, the wife of J.J. Hanson, a Sullivan County man who was among the chief opponents of assisted suicide and died after a long battle with brain cancer, told lawmakers New York ranks 48th out of 50 states in the utilization of hospice.
Dr. Stanley Bukowski of Alden said patients nearing death should have a doctor “walk with them” in their final days, not play an active role in bringing about their demise.
Dr. Jay Federman of Saranac Lake, a proponent of the legislation, said aid in dying would not be an alternative to palliative care but instead would represent “one component of end-of-life” care.
We agree. This legislation would not mandate those who are near the end of their lives to take life-ending medication. It just gives those who are suffering an option.
We should show the same compassion to our human loved ones as we do our pets.