*Mentally competent, terminally ill patients have a right to refuse medical treatment in New York State — but doctors do not have the right to help them die, the Appellate Division in Manhattan ruled Tuesday.
The panel of four women judges upheld a ruling by Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Joan Kenney who said she was sympathetic to the plight of the dying plaintiffs but state laws that outlaw assisted suicides are not a violation of their civil rights.
The plaintiffs included desperately ill patients (one of whom has since died) and doctors fearful of losing their licenses and being prosecuted criminally if they helped their dying patients to end it faster.
They argued that other states — and Canada — have changed their laws to permit assisted suicides and public opinion has changed since the state last visited the issue 30 years ago.
In an opinion written by Judge Angela Mazzarelli, the panel said the plaintiffs had “a heavy burden” of proof when they argued that New York laws which give people the right to refuse medical treatment also give them the right to ask a doctor to help them die. The judges said they failed to meet that burden.
Edwin Schallert, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said his clients are “very disappointed” that lower court and the appellate division ruled on the law without giving them a chance to submit evidence to support their claims and they will appeal to the state’s highest court.
The panel said it was deferring the issue to the “political branches of government on whether aid-in-dying should be considered a prosecutable offense.”
There is currently a bill in the legislature which would legalize assisted suicide but it’s languishing in the face of fierce opposition from the Catholic Church.
Mentally competent, terminally ill patients have a right to refuse medical treatment in New York State, but doctors do not have the right to help them die.*