POLITICS

Brittany Maynard's Story Moves New York Lawmakers To Introduce Death With Dignity Bill

02/17/2015 08:55 pm ET | Updated Feb 17, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York state lawmakers have introduced a "death with dignity" bill that would make the state the sixth in the U.S. to allow terminally ill adults to end their own lives with doctor-prescribed medicine.

“The option to end one’s suffering when facing the final stages of a terminal illness should be a basic human right, and not dependent upon one’s zip code,” state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) said in a statement Tuesday.

Savino is the primary co-sponsor of the New York End-of-Life Options Act, which would allow doctors to prescribe “medication that a patient can self-administer to bring about a peaceful and humane death.”

The bill, introduced last week, is modeled after Oregon’s “Death With Dignity” law, which grabbed headlines in October after Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer, moved to the state from California in order to end her life. Maynard was surrounded by her family in Portland when she died on Nov. 1.

Savino said she met last month with Maynard’s family, including her husband, Dan Diaz.

“Meeting Mr. Diaz only strengthened my commitment to helping every New Yorker gain access to the option of aid in dying,” Savino said. “I was honored to meet Brittany’s family and to learn how this option improved her well-being during her illness, as well as how having to move to another state only made her final months that much harder.”

Diaz said in a statement Tuesday that Oregon’s law enabled his wife “to focus on living her last days to the fullest, rather than living in fear of dying in agony from terminal brain cancer.”

New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) told The Huffington Post Tuesday that Maynard’s story “moved” him to co-sponsor the bill.

“I've had two close friends who had terminal diagnoses and I feel like people deserve a choice when they're in that situation,” Hoylman said. “It potentially gives them great empowerment over their disease.”

Since Maynard’s story, the group Compassion and Choices -- which advocates for end-of-life rights -- says lawmakers in 13 states and Washington D.C., have either introduced or are preparing death with dignity legislation.

In addition to Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico have death with dignity laws.

The New York state bill would require two doctors to confirm that the patient’s prognosis is terminal, and two witnesses to attest that the patient’s request for life-ending medicine is voluntary. It would protect physicians from criminal or civil liability if they fulfill an eligible patient’s request to receive the medicine.

Hoylman said that because of the controversial nature of the bill, it will likely take time before it’s brought to a vote. “We'll have to engage our colleagues and the public and medical profession, among others,” he said.

Plus, he added, many will have “moral and religious considerations.” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, for example, told The New York Daily News recently that “the real death with dignity, the real heroes, are those who die naturally, who take each day at a time, savoring everything they’ve got.”

Hoylman said he “deeply respect[s]” those with reservations like Dolan’s, but believes “it is up to individuals to make those choices.”

"This is a bill that will respect differences, but allow people the option -- those that have already given terminal diagnoses -- who we want to have more control” in their final days, Hoylman said.

Hoylman said Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) hasn’t indicated whether he’d support the bill. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a Huffington Post request for comment.

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