End of Life Choices New York (EOLCNY) has initiated and is a plaintiff in a lawsuit to establish aid in dying in New York filed on Wednesday, Feb. 4. in State Supreme Court. A woman dying of ALS, a man dying of AIDS, a lawyer with cancer, four prominent New York physicians, and Judy Schwarz, PhD, the volunteer clinical coordinator for EOLCNY, are additional plaintiffs. The national nonprofit disability rights advocacy group, Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC), and the Debevoise & Plimpton law firm are representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to clarify the ability of mentally competent, terminally ill New York patients to obtain aid in dying from their physician if they find their dying process unbearable.
The lead lawyers are Kathryn Tucker, the Executive Director of DRLC and Edwin Schallert, a partner at Debevoise. For 20 years Kathryn was the director of legal affairs for Compassion & Choices. Kathryn has been counsel in similar cases that established access to aid in dying in Montana and New Mexico, where a favorable decision is now on appeal, and was lead counsel in the federal constitutional cases, Quill v. New York and Glucksberg v. Washington. Edwin Schallert has been a partner in the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP for over 25 years. He is a member of the firm’s Litigation Department and co-chair of its Securities Litigation Practice.
The patients and doctors are asking the court to declare that physicians who provide a prescription for medication to a mentally competent terminally ill patient – which the patient could consume to bring about a peaceful death – should not be subject to criminal prosecution under existing New York law, which makes a crime of assisting another to “commit suicide.” The lawsuit argues that the choice of such a dying patient for a peaceful death is not “suicide,” and the physician is not assisting such a patient in “committing suicide.”
Further, the lawsuit argues that patients facing the end of their lives have a right under the New York State Constitution to make autonomous decisions about their bodies and how they will die. The lawsuit is filed in the wake of the death of terminally ill patient Brittany Maynard, who had to move to Oregon from California in order to access aid in dying.
We are hopeful that this lawsuit will ultimately succeed, although we expect that a final decision may not be rendered for two to three years. Funds are needed for the lawsuit and related expenses. Please contribute generously.
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