Panel Weighs In On Physician-Assisted Suicide

By Jano Tantongco

jtantongco@longislandergroup.com

Barbara Mancini, left, who was initially charged with assisted suicide for giving her dying father morphine, but was later exonerated, stands with Juli Sippel, a Stony Brook resident and advocate for aid-in-dying options. Photo/Compassion & Choices

Barbara Mancini, left, who was initially charged with assisted suicide for giving her dying father morphine, but was later exonerated, stands with Juli Sippel, a Stony Brook resident and advocate for aid-in-dying options. Photo/Compassion & Choices

As uncomfortable as the topic of death can sometimes be, a panel discussion on the issue of aid-in-dying options for the terminally ill took place at the Melville branch of the Half Hollow Hills Community Library last Thursday.

Among the panelists was Corinne Carey, the New York campaign director for nonprofit Compassion and Choices, which is promoting state legislation that would legalize the prescription aid-in-dying medication.

Carey said Compassion and Choices works to expand the “choices that exist during end of life care.” She pointed to Oregon, which legalized physician-assisted suicide in 1994, through the Death with Dignity Act. She said since that time 1,327 prescriptions were issued in the state, with one-third of them not being used at all.

“People aren't rushing out to get this,” Carey said. “There’s a lot of thought that goes into this.”

Joan Caly, a Lloyd Harbor resident, attended last week’s panel in Melville and said she left feeling more reinforced in her support of aid-in-dying options.

“I’m almost 75. I know what happens sooner or later,” Caly said on Monday. “I want control in some way of what happens to me. I want to have a medical option to avoid a painful death.”

Caly said she was fascinated by stories told by both Carey and Barbara Mancini, another panelist, who faced felony charges of assisted suicide in Pennsylvania for handing her dying 93-year-old father a bottle of morphine. The case was later dismissed by Schuylkill County Judge Jacqueline Russell, who said that proof of intent to assist with suicide was not established by the prosecution.

“It was devastating to have this happen. It was an unjust prosecution. I was lucky that a judge recognized that,” Mancini said. “We live in a culture that's profoundly disturbed by the concept of death. Some people feel they have the right to interfere with someone's decision.”

Since Mancini’s case was dropped, she has worked to promote the legalization of aid-in-dying options for the terminally ill, including the End of Life Options Act, which was introduced in January 2015 by New York Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island).

The bill would allow the prescription of aid-in-dying medications for terminally ill patients with six months or less of life remaining, upon approval from two different physicians. It’s being reviewed by the Senate’s health committee.

State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) has sponsored an assembly-equivalent bill being that is currently Assembly’s health committee.

Senator Savino said that she initially became interested in the issue when she campaigned for her Compassionate Care Act, the state’s medical marijuana law that was passed in 2014. In the two and a half years she spent working on the bill, she said she met many terminally ill patients who would not get to see the passage of the bill into law.

“It made me start to think about all those people who I had met along the way,” she said. “Not just for treatment, but just to have control over their own life.”

Savino said she personally wouldn’t choose to end her life prematurely if it ever got to that point, but she believes patients should have the option available to them.

“Some people are outliving themselves,” she said. “The soul may outlive the body.”