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Faith leaders press, oppose, religious arguments on NY assisted suicide bill

February 15, 2017 09:19 AM

Advocates for assisted suicide in New York took a religious approach Tuesday with a push by faith leaders in Albany.

“We're all just penciled in.  We are all going to die,” declared Rochester Unitarian minister Rev. Richard Gilbert during the event in the state capitol.  “The questions are ‘when?’ and ‘how?’ and ‘who will make the decision?’"

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Gilbert joined dozens of fellow ministers and rabbis on behalf of Compassion & Choices New York to speak out for the state’s new assisted suicide bill, Assembly bill 2383 the Medical Aid in Dying Act. With many arguments against assisted suicide made by religious leaders or phrased in religious terms, Gilbert said “We hope we reach some in the religious community who maybe had been doubting that there are religious leaders who support this bill.”

Previously known as the End of Life Options Act, the bill would allow doctors to prescribe deadly medication to mentally competent, terminally ill patients who request them so the patients can take them, or opt not to take them, rather than continue to battle their illnesses.

“We have the tyranny of technology,” said Gilbert, “when people, medical personnel, can prolong life for a long, long, time but life that is not worth living. Sometimes I think the greatest reverence for life is to end human suffering."

“What you're really talking about is eliminating suffering by eliminating the sufferer,” retorted Rochester Catholic Priest Rev. Jack Healy.  “I think some of our faith people are being fed a bill of goods. It's a false compassion."

A Carmelite priest who spent more than three decades offering end-of-life care to patients in hospice, Healy said he has seen hundreds of them die naturally and peacefully without the need for their doctors to help them end it all.  “It's just the next step to go from physician-assisted suicide to the physician as the director agent of the killing, what we call euthanasia,” Healy said.  “That's the experience in Holland and in Belgium.”

Healy dismissed the notion that terminal patients were suffering physical pain, something he said was no longer an issue with modern medications, but said those patients could be suffering despair, depression and loneliness, real problems he declared it a duty for providers to address, rather than give up on.

“Nobody has a right to enlist the medical profession to kill and basically that's what it's coming down to. Suicide is self-murder, self-killing.”

In their remarks in Albany, advocates for the act called it a protection of religious freedom for New Yorkers, safeguarding their life and death decisions.  They insisted it would keep patients from being pressured into choosing suicide as an option and protect doctors who have their own objections.   They also pointed to six other states that already have legalized forms of doctor assisted suicide, California, Colorado, Montana, Vermont, the state of Washington and Oregon.

It is the example of Oregon that disturbs disability rights activist Stephanie Woodward finds disturbing.  “The studies are showing in Oregon people that are terminally ill are choosing to die not because they're in pain, but the top five reasons are all disability related, such as feeling like a burden on others."

Woodward said legalizing doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients was just a short step from pushing sick, or disabled, patients into ending their lives.

“There's a lot of mistake, coercion, and abuse that is happening,” she said.  “We're also finding that insurance companies are denying life-prolonging treatment such as chemotherapy and offering assisted suicide instead. So it's not really an ‘option.’ if the option to help you live isn't covered, but the option to help you die is.”

Gilbert insisted the purpose of the act was to add choices terminal patients now lack, not take any away.  “No one is forced to do something against their will,” he said, “or against their faith. But those of us who have faith that we should have some determination for our death, we should be able to make that choice.”

Credits

Charles Molineaux

Copyright 2017 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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