N.Y. Task Force Rejects Assisted Suicide

Author: Dave Andrusko


legend: _italics_ *boldface*

Citing fears of widespread abuse, the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law has unanimously recommended against legalizing assisted suicide. The decision, which came in the booklength report _When Death Is Sought: Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the Medical Context_ issued May 26, came as a surprise to many. In recent years, the influential task force has issued many staunchly proeuthanasia proposals.

Indeed, the perspectives of the 24-member task force varied widely. Various members have championed the "right to die," for example. While some thought that "assisted suicide can be an ethical compassionate act by health care -More-professionals in some cases," they were convinced there is no way to erect effective safeguards against abuse.

"No matter how carefully any guidelines are framed, assisted suicide and euthanasia will be practiced through the prism of social inequality and bias that characterize the delivery in all segments of society, including health care," the report notes. "The risks to already vulnerable members of our society would be extraordinary, especially in light of the growing cost consciousness about health care."

The task force warned of the specter of vulnerable patients being pressured to kill themselves and involuntary euthanasia. Rather than discarding the state's ban on assisted suicide, the task force recommended much more aggressive treatment of pain and depression. According to Dr. Mark Chassin, the New York state commissioner of health who chaired the task force, "A humane society owes its citizens something more than a prescription for a quick exit, particularly when we have the ability to control pain effectively and to successfully treat the depression that often causes patients to believe that suicide is their only option."

Set up in 1985, the task force reports to Gov. Mario Cuomo. While it has no legislative power, its previous reports have served as roadmaps both for the New York legislature and other states on topics ranging from organ donation to -More-denial of lifesaving treatment.

Last year the state Board for Professional Medical Conduct asked the task force to address assisted suicide, spurred by the actions of Dr. Timothy Quill. The board was mulling over disciplinary action for Quill, a Rochester internist, who described in the _New England Journal of Medicine_ how he helped a woman with leukemia kill herself by providing a lethal dose of barbiturates. After the medical board cleared him, a grand jury declined to indict Dr. Quill.

Predictably, Quill criticized the report, as did Sidney Rosoff, president of the Hemlock Society.

While opposing the legalization of assisted suicide, the report reiterated the task force's 1992 proposal to enact legislation in New York which would allow family members and other "surrogates" to withdraw treatment in the absence of clear evidence that is what the patient would want. New York is one of the few states that now require such clear-cut evidence.

While giving surrogates the unilateral power to *deny* lifesaving treatment, the task force's recommendation would effectively allow health care providers to *veto* the surrogate's decision to provide lifesaving treatment. In practice the bill would thus legalize involuntary euthanasia, and New York State RTL is vigorously opposing it. -More- [ This article first appeared in the in the June 21, 1994 issue of _National Right to Life News_. Copied with permission. _National Right to Life News_ is the official publication of the National Right to Life Committee, Inc. Subscription information, including bulk rates for schools and libraries may be obtained by contacting NRL News at:

National Right to Life News Address: Suite 500, 419 - 7th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004 Phone: (202)626-8800 ]

National Right to Life Committee, Inc. Subscription information, including bulk rates for schools and libraries may be obtained from NRL News, Suite 500, 419 - 7th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004. Phone: (202) 626-8800.