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.