Should terminally ill patients have the right to end their lives?
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Should someone who has less than six months to live be allowed to end their own life if they so choose? That’s the question lawmakers in Albany are considering as they weigh a bill that would allow medical aid in dying.
As a surgeon and the co-founder of one of the nation’s first hospices, Dr. Robert Milch saw hundreds of patients at the end of their lives.
“He knew that the best physicians were ones that listened to their patients and listened to patient autonomy and how to treat a human being instead of just an illness or disease,” his daughter Melissa told News10NBC.
Dr. Milch firmly believed in one thing.
“Living the best life you could while you could and when the suffering outdid everything else, you should have a say and an option on how you continue with your remaining days,” Melissa said of her father’s beliefs.
For years, Dr. Milch, Melissa and other advocates for the Medical Aid in Dying Act made trips to Albany to press lawmakers to pass it.
The legislation allows a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient who has 6 months or less to live. The request for the medication must be made in writing, signed and dated by the patient. It also must be witnessed by two others, one who is a non-family member with no monetary interests, who can attest that to the best of their knowledge, the patient has the mental capacity to make the request and is not being coerced.
The bill has never made it to the full floor in the Senate or Assembly for a vote and this year, Dr. Milch isn’t here to continue pushing for it.
He died in April after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“It was brutal, sitting at his bedside. He died at a hospital. He didn’t want to die at a hospital. He had no control any longer,” Melissa recalled.
The Milch family is hoping this is the year that lawmakers move on it but there is very vocal opposition too.
“These policies are especially a danger to people with disabilities of all ages,” explained Diane Coleman of the disability advocacy group, Not Dead Yet.
Coleman said she’s studied other states where medical aid in dying is already in place.
“I think a lot of people assume it’s pain (why people choose to die) but that isn’t the case, the top five reasons are disability-related things like not being able to do the same things you used to do, feeling like a burden on others, feeling like you’ve lost your dignity,” she tells News10NBC.
All issues, Coleman says can be eased with access to proper home care.
“We also know that doctors aren’t that great at predicting the 6 months, I mean I’ve certainly experienced that and many disabled people have been told, well you’re on your last legs here,” she said.
Coleman also has concerns about the safety of the medication being in a home after it is prescribed and filled.
Milch believes there are enough protections in the bill to avoid those situations.
“Just knowing that you have that option should it become so unbearable, brings a sense of peace,” she said.
And that’s why she will continue to push for its passage.
The Medical Aid in Dying Bill is currently still in committee in both the Assembly and the Senate. This legislative session is set to adjourn on June 2.