HV Assemblywoman Hosts Aid in Dying Forum

Feb 9, 2016

A New York assemblywoman has introduced a bill to allow Aid in Dying and recently held her first forum on the topic. Amy Paulin, a Westchester Democrat, acknowledges the sensitive and emotional nature of the issue but remains hopeful about her bill becoming law.

Paulin, from Scarsdale, says her bill is newly introduced this legislative session and in its third form, adding more protections than in previous iterations.  

“We added even more protections than we had before listening to people that they wanted to be sure that the people who did avail themselves of aid in dying medication were the people that it was intended for,” says Paulin. “So we have built in a lot of protections.”

Paulin says one of her constituents, Executive Director of End of Life Choices New York David Leven, approached her about year ago asking if she would consider sponsoring such a bill.

“It’s about choice,” says Paulin. “And it’s about giving people when they’re at the most vulnerable moment, when they’re dying, a choice to die in dignity.”

The bill authorizes a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to be self-administered by the patient who is mentally competent and suffers from a terminal illness or condition — one that can reasonably be expected to cause death within six months, whether or not treatment is provided. The terminal illness would be recorded as the cause of death and there would be immunity for health care providers. Paulin, whose bill has six co-sponsors and four multi-sponsors, has an ally in the Republican-controlled senate, where Hudson Valley Republican John Bonacic is the sponsor.

“I always believed that when terminal patients, when they’re on their deathbeds, they deserve to have the choice to end their suffering,” says Bonacic.

He says he has been listening to both sides of the issue.

“And I’ve heard so many heartfelt stories by many people that think this is a very good idea,” Bonacic says. “I’ve had many bishops come see me, lobbying against it, and other religious groups, that only God has the right to determine when life ends.”

Opponents were part of the more than 50-person audience on February 4. A few picketed outside the site of the forum, the Scarsdale Woman’s Club, while others handed out literature from New Yorkers for Life. They took part in the question and answer session, where it became clear that both sides use different terminology – aid in dying versus assisted suicide. Mel Tanzman, executive director of Westchester Disabled on the Move, has a preference.

“To me, physician-assisted suicide, aid in dying, it still comes down to the same thing,” Tanzman says. “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck, so that’s why I call it physician-assisted suicide.”

And he opposes sanctioning doctors to help end a life.

“Where does it become terminal? Ten years ago, it was a terminal diagnosis to have HIV and many of us know people who live well beyond the six months or nine months they were given,” says Tanzman. “So it just seems to me to be a slippery slope that can actually be impacted by societal attitudes towards fears about disability, fears about becoming disabled in general.”

Bronx resident Eric Seiff took part in the forum. He has cancer and wants the option of aid in dying should he become terminally ill.

“I have a very strong belief that when that time arrives where my illness is not only terminal but terminal within a six-month period, I should have within my power, the ability to seek medical assistance to ease my death,” says Seiff.

Paulin says she faces opposition in the Democratic-controlled assembly but believes more support will come with providing education.

“It’s a new concept for a lot of people. When it was first brought to me it was a new concept. I had to think about it and I decided that I agreed with the choice that it allowed people,” says Paulin. “And I think that’s what we have to do for both, for all of my colleagues. We have to educate them on where else it’s taking place, the success it’s had, the protections in the bill, what it means to give people this choice. And I feel convinced when we do all that, this will be a law in New York.”

Bonacic, who watched his mother-in-law suffer from cancer, believes New York eventually will enact an aid in dying law.

“I’m trying to listen to both sides and do this intelligently and give both sides a complete airing, but I think public opinion is already on the side that this legislation is a good idea, not only in New York but, as I said, across many states in the country,” Bonacic says. “It’s just a matter of time when it’s going to happen in New York.”

Five states allow aid in dying: California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Bills are pending in 20 other states.