May 3, 2018

ACUF Senior Policy Fellow Julie Hocker Testifies at the New York Assembly


Public Hearing on Bill 2383-A

Delivered by Julie Hocker, Senior Policy Fellow for the Center for Human Dignity

American Conservative Union Foundation

Good afternoon.  Thank you Chairman Gottfried, Ranking Minority Member Raia, and members of the committee for the invitation to speak about Assembly Bill 2383 – the Medical Aid in Dying Act.  My name is Julie Hocker and I am a Senior Policy Fellow for the Center for Human Dignity at the American Conservative Union Foundation.

Assembly Bill 2383 creates – for you, for your families, and for every New Yorker – the legal means to danger, deception, and death.  This bill exploits the most vulnerable New Yorkers and will bring about premature deaths for countless people every year.  When considering this bill, we urge you to consider these three facts:

  • This bill legalizes assisted suicide for some and creates a two-class system for all.
  • This is the degradation of choice, autonomy, and the freedoms New Yorkers are guaranteed.
  • This is deception by way of words and actions.

This bill creates an instrumental scale to determine who can be assisted with suicide and who is provided treatment for suicidal ideations.    

Just this past September, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that any supposed “medical aid-in-dying” law – such as Assembly Bill 2383[1] - legalizes the active assistance of suicide.[2]  This bill creates a yardstick by which the State of New York will measure the value of citizens - not for their innate human equality and value, but for their current condition.  Consequently, we urge the members of this committee to consider whether it wishes to create a two-class system of citizens within the State:  one who receive the protections of law and one group of people who do not.

Last November, Governor Cuomo launched the Suicide Prevention Task Force and said, “The rise in the number of suicides nationwide is unacceptable, and New York will continue to make suicide awareness and prevention a top priority until we put an end to this epidemic.”  Amid this noble effort to prevent suicide, why would we empower our healthcare professionals to promote and assist in suicides?

Suicide rates overall increase by 6.3% in states where assisted suicide is legal.[3]  Among the elderly – who typically represent 80% of those dying due to assisted suicide – the incidence of suicide increases by 14.5%.[4]  And here in New York, family and friends who experience suicide loss are 65% more likely to attempt suicide and 80% more likely to drop out of school or work.[5] [6]  These are the deadly realities of this bill before you.

Hocker at NY Assembly

This bill destroys choice for New Yorkers and takes away the rights and freedoms of the vulnerable.

As New York families and communities are subject to a more pro-suicide society, there will still be those who claim that some New York Yorkers should have this choice.  But what choice and for whom?  The fact is this:  those who have limited finances, access to care, and those with disabilities will have their personal freedom compromised or taken away.  They will be left with no choice at all.

  • Limited Access to Financial and Medical Resources:  For New Yorkers who have limited financial means or whose insurance company may be unwilling to cover costly treatments that is transformative or curative, they may be left with the pressure to consider assisted suicide.
    • Suppose a New Yorker, who is not terminally ill but takes medication for a chronic condition such as hypertension or heart disease, becomes unable to access her medication due to loss of insurance coverage or the onset of a mental health condition, such as severe depression.  She could, under this bill, become “eligible” for assisted suicide.  In December of 2017, public advocate Fabian Stahle inquired about this exact instance – citing the exact language found in this Assembly Bill – to the State of Oregon.  Stahle received a reply from Craig New of the Oregon Health Authority that such a patient could receive the lethal poison because if the “patient cannot pay for the treatment, then the disease remains incurable.”[7]
    • And consider the story of Californian Stephanie Packer.  Stephanie is a mother of four who sought life-extending care, but was denied.  Stephanie was told that while care to give her more days with her small children would not be covered, she qualified for her premature death by way of assisted suicide for the cost of $1.20 co-pay.[8]
  • Individuals with Disabilities:  This bill does not protect those who are disabled and non-verbal.  Under this bill, an assistant can attest to something the patient cannot:  his wishes about his life.  No protection will ever guard against the danger that a medical assistant could declare a communication, only understood between him and a patient, as the expressed wish to be dead.  We know that abuse is common throughout the disabled and elderly populations today.  Take for example, the 2017 case of New Jersey professor Anna Stubblefield who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 34-year old, non-verbal student after claiming to use a controversial method of interpretation called “facilitated communication.”[9]  This same coercion and controversial communication could be used to manipulate a person into an unwelcomed and untimely death completely within this law.  And no conviction in court will ever bring that victim back to life.

This bill deceptively creates a sanctioned path to suicide and a permanent culture of death.

It is only by deception that we could ever believe that this law will only allow those with diseases that, after extensive treatment and interventions, are facing imminent death as the direct result of a confirmed diagnosis.[10][11]

The truth is that this assisted suicide bill leaves countless New Yorkers in harm’s way and does so many, many years before these individuals would otherwise come close to the dying stage of their lives.

The truth you will not hear from proponents of this assisted suicide bill is that the definition for terminal illness is so loose that it incorporates many easily cured conditions.

Consider the roughly 77,000 New Yorkers living with Type I Diabetes – that is, diabetes managed with insulin and diet.[12]  They do not have a terminal diagnosis according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s standards, but under this bill, that does not have to remain so.  Suppose one of them battles addiction, suffers the loss of a job, or gets a divorce.  This bill creates the path for these individuals to simply refuse to administer insulin, and instead contact a nonprofit agency created to connect them with doctors willing to diagnose them as terminal and write their prescribed death.  This is already happening in Oregon.  We do not know the conditions of the deaths in Oregon since the passage of that state’s assisted suicide law because reporting remains incomplete and vague.  But what we do know is that at least eight lives were cut short because of primary diagnosis of Diabetes.[13] [14]

Assembly Bill 2383 is dangerous, deceptive, and deadly.  It is wrong for New York.

It is our duty as Americans to uphold the fundamental and Constitutional rights of one another.  We must remain vigilant and committed to the foundational idea that every person – without exception – has innate dignity and is worthy of respect and equal protections both in life and in law.  This bill – this assisted suicide bill – separates the great citizens of New York into two separate classes:  those who will be cared for and those who will lose their legal protections and equality.  This bill does not offer a right, it strips them away.  No amendment to this bill can change this fact.

We urge the committee to consider the deadly consequences of this bill before voting.

Thank you.

[1] Assembly Bill 2383 – “Medical Aid in Dying Act” – distinctly refers to an “…individual’s affirmative, conscious, and voluntary act…” and “…self-administer medication for the purpose of ending his or her life” in at least eight separate instances.

[2] Myers v. Schneiderman 2017

[3] Jones, David Albert and Paton, David.  “How Does Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide Affect Rates of Suicide?” Southern Medical Journal.  2015.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “1700 Too Many:  New York’s Suicide Prevention Plan 2016-17”  New York State Office of Mental Health.  2016.

[6] Oregon Death with Dignity Act 2017 Data Summary.  Oregon Health Authority, Public Health Division.

[7] “What’s Really Happening with Doctor-Assisted Suicide?” The American Journal of Bioethics.  January, 2018.

[8] Watch Stephanie tell her story:

[9] State of New Jersey v Marjorie Anna Stubblefield 2017.

[10] Hui, David et al.  “Concepts and Definitions for “Actively Dying,” “End of Life,” “Terminally Ill,” “Terminal Care,” and “Transition of Care”: A Systemic Review.  U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes for Health.  2013.

[11] From Hui et al: “…three conditions, all of which need to be met before making a diagnosis of ‘terminal’ illness in cancer patients: a firm diagnosis, with symptoms and signs relate to progressive malignant disease and not primarily to non-terminal conditions; the recognition that death is not far off; and that conventional anticancer therapy (surgery, radiotherapy, cytotoxic chemotherapy and hormonal therapy) has been used to the full.”

0.39% of the general U.S. population has Type I Diabetes (American Diabetes Association), New York State has approximately 19,850,000 residents (public) and the instance of Type I Diabetes is similar to that of the general U.S. population (assumption)

[13] Oregon Death with Dignity Act 2017 Data Summary.  Oregon Health Authority, Public Health Division.

[14] “What’s Really Happening with Doctor-Assisted Suicide?” The American Journal of Bioethics.  January, 2018.