Panelists share their stances on the pending “Death with Dignity” New York State legislature at a discussion last Thursday.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Panelists share their stances on the pending “Death with Dignity” New York State legislature at a discussion last Thursday.

April 17, 2016

Panelists Debate Morality of Assisted Suicide Bill

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Panelists from the Cornell Law School hosted a discussion entitled “Death with Dignity” to debate the controversial issue of assisted suicide and pending New York state legislation last Thursday.

If the “Death with Dignity” bill passes, New York will become the sixth state to allow terminally ill patients to end their own lives with prescribed lethal medication, according to MSNBC.

Panelist Prof. Daryl Bem, psychology, whose wife committed assisted suicide, discussed her struggles with Alzheimer’s disease in explaining why he is in favor of assisted suicide.

Bem said his wife, Sandy, resolved to kill herself after her disease made her delirious. She was featured on the cover of The New York Times for her story.

“I worry about a society in which physicians do not have [the power to assist in suicide],” Bem said.

Bem explained that he was a counselor against suicide and that his stance on the issue is founded in past experience.

“Both Sandy and I were trained as counselors for the Ithaca suicide prevention, trying to show people that there are alternatives to taking their own life,” Bem said. “We see no irony between that and making our position public on this.”

The panelists also discussed their experience and knowledge of assisted suicide, informing attendees about many pieces of the “Death With Dignity” legislation before New York State votes.

One major concern regarding the legislation is that people would abuse the ability to have assisted deaths, especially those with mental illnesses, according to panelist Prof. Cynthia Grant Bowman, law.

“The NYS legislature now two decades later has all different bills in front of it,” she said. “Al of them include a variety of regulations that include a safeguard against the possible abuses,” Bowman said.

Panelist Dr. Timothy Quill also shared personal experiences and argued that the legislation would not cause people to abuse drugs.

Caitlin Hurst, Office Manager of Jill Miller and Associates, said Quill was involved in the counsel of Vacco v. Quill, a U.S. Supreme Court decision about the right to die.

The court ruled that a New York ban on physician-assisted suicide was constitutional and preventing doctors from assisting their patients was a legitimate state interest that was well within the authority of the state to regulate, according to Hurst.

“In brief, this decision established that, as a matter of law, there was no constitutional guarantee of a ‘right to die,’” Hurst said.

  • I take exception to the polling on legalizing assisted suicide.
    I have found (serving 60 fair booth days) that about half of the public thinks they are in favor of such a law, that is until they learn about the flaws in the laws that create new paths of elder abuse with immunity. Once they learn that a predatory heir may steer the signup process and then forcibly administer the lethal dose without oversight, they all said, “I am not for that!”.
    Anyway all of these Oregon Model bills have the same flaws that work together to eviscerate flaunted safe guards.
    For example how many times have you nodded your head when the proponents declared that the lethal dose must be self-administered?
    Well, read the language of the law/bill and you will find that there is no means provided to insure that marketing point. For example “self-administrate” was mentioned 11 times in the 8 page Minnesota SF 1880 and yet there was no means provided to confirm that the lethal dose was forced on not, who would know if they struggled and not consented.
    In fact what is provided is that there may be no investigations allowed after the death (page 6 of 8 Subd. 12. In addition allowing a stranger that claims to know how the person communicates may speak for them eviscerates all the intended safeguards, page 1 of 8 (e).
    Along with allowing predatory heirs and staff to witness even as other family members are not required to be contact.

    This is a very dangerous public policy that by their own records in OR and WA is establishing poisoning as the “medical standard of care” for people that have “feelings” of fear of the loss of autonomy.
    We are all at risk of abuse by these poorly composed laws/bills.

    Bradley Williams
    MTaas dot org

  • As a psychologist who specializes in geriatrics, I am in favor of the right to die. One hundred per cent of my patients state they do not fear death. They fear having no quality of life and being warehoused Ina nursing home. We give our pets the right to die if they have no quality of life. Should we not extend the same consideration to humans? Is the nursing home lobby so strong that legislators will not extend death with Dignity to their constituents?
    Dr M