New York Courts Rule Against “Aid in Dying” and Warn of Its Dangers

Oct 1, 2017 by

by  Richard M. Doerflinger, Public Discourse:

New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled on September 7 that there is no state constitutional “right” to what supporters call “aid in dying” for the terminally ill. News media reported this as a defeat for the physician-assisted suicide lobby. Less widely understood is what a complete defeat this ruling was—and what it suggests for the future.

The basic facts are these. Plaintiffs first filed suit in a trial court, a division of what is called the Supreme Court in New York. In 2015, the trial judge approved a motion by the state attorney general to dismiss the suit. Plaintiffs appealed their case to the state Appellate Division, where a panel of four judges in 2016 unanimously affirmed the trial court’s ruling and added explicitly that the state law against assisting a suicide can “prohibit a licensed physician from providing aid-in-dying” without violating the state constitution. Finally, plaintiffs brought their case to the Court of Appeals, where a five-judge panel, again unanimously, concluded: “Our Legislature has a rational basis for criminalizing assisted suicide, and plaintiffs have no constitutional right to the relief they seek herein.”

The Court of Appeals noted that claims of a state constitutional right to assisted suicide have lost everywhere else they have been tried—in Alaska, California, Florida, Michigan, and New Mexico. (In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court issued an odd interpretation of that state’s ban on assisted suicide that makes it difficult to enforce, but it has not addressed the constitutional issue; bills to legalize the practice outright have failed in the legislature there ever since.)

But this new defeat in New York is especially devastating to the assisted suicide cause. New York is considered a bellwether “progressive” state. Eleven of its distinguished legal officials—ten judges and the Attorney General—have unanimously rejected an aggressive effort by “Compassion & Choices” (C&C) and its allies to establish a constitutional “right” for their agenda. And all eleven were appointed by liberal “pro-choice” Democrats: current governor Andrew Cuomo (who named all the judges on the Court of Appeals), his father Mario Cuomo, or the state’s first African-American governor, David Paterson. This confounds C&C’s talking point that only benighted religious believers and right-wing politicians stand in its way.

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