Advocates push for passage of Medical Aid in Dying Act

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Should a terminally ill person have the right to end their own life?

That is a question New York State lawmakers will consider when they head back to Albany. Advocates who are pushing for it tell News10NBC investigative reporter Jennifer Lewke they are hopeful that this will be the year the Medical Aid in Dying Act is passed.

Right now in New York, mentally competent, terminally ill patients have a right to refuse medical treatment but doctors do not have the right to prescribe medication to help them die. If this legislation were to pass, that would change.

Scott Barraco lost his girlfriend, Cathy Quinn, to tongue cancer.

“She didn’t want to find herself lingering waiting to die totally on cancer’s terms. She wanted to have a say in how her death went,” Barraco said.

But despite knowing she had less than six months to live, she didn’t get that say.

“What a fantastic thing that would’ve been for Cathy to satisfy her dying wishes and when they told us it wasn’t available here in New York, it was a gut punch. It was terrible.”

News10NBC first spoke to Barraco after Quinn’s death in 2016. Since then, he’s continued to push year after year for passage of the Medical Aid in Dying Act.

It offers a dignified death, he says: one like Alan Kelly had.

He and his wife, Joanne, originally from Rochester, moved to Colorado years ago. Medical aid in dying is allowed there.

So, after his life with a terminal illness began deteriorating, he made the decision to end it.

“We gathered around his bed and we all held hands and we thanked Alan for the various gifts he had given us throughout his life. And I must admit, there was at least as much laughing as there was crying,” Joanne Tubbs Kelly said.

Some of those against medical aid in dying say they have moral beliefs against suicide.

To which this reverend says …

“Suicide is an act of despair and hopelessness,” Rev. Richard Gilbert, a retired Unitarian Universalist minister. “Medical aid in dying as an act of love and meaning. I can’t say it more simply do that.”

Disability rights advocates argue it could shame people into ending their own lives because they don’t want to be a burden on their families.

“No one has to use medical aid in dying,” Corrine Carey, from Compassion and Choices, said. “The beauty of this law is that it is an entirely voluntary process from start to finish. The dying person and the dying person alone is in charge.”

Ten other states allow medical aid in dying.

“Two physicians have to determine that you’re terminally ill, mentally capable, and that you have six months or less to live, so that’s one of the safeguards,” Carey said. “The other that you mentioned – picking up the prescription – most people who are prescribed medical aid in dying medication don’t pick up the prescription until and unless they’re ready to use it.”

And even then, it’s not a poison pill. It’s a mixture that needs to be carefully concocted – something these folks are hoping lawmakers take careful consideration of when decided whether this will be the year in which they take up debate.