N.Y. TASK FORCE REJECTS ASSISTED SUICIDE
By 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
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National Right to Life Committee, Inc. Subscription information, including
bulk rates for schools and libraries may be obtained from NRL News, Suite
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