Death With Dignity in New York

In 2018, New York considered but rejected a death with dignity law.

Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of states considering death with dignity laws. Sometimes called “assisted suicide” or “right to die” initiatives, these laws make it possible for terminally ill patients to use prescribed medication to end their lives peacefully rather than suffering a painful and protracted death.

The catalyst for greater national attention to this issue was 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, a woman diagnosed with terminal brain cancer who moved from California to Oregon to end her life in 2014. Maynard chose Oregon because California had not yet passed its aid-in-dying law, and Oregon was one of just a few states that allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives.

New York’s 2018 Medical Aid in Dying Act

In early 2018, spurred by Maynard’s decision and the resulting publicity, the New York State Assembly considered a bill called the Medical Aid in Dying Act, (AB2383 in the state assembly and SB3151 in the senate). Although a poll conducted in April 2018 showed that 63% of New York voters support death with dignity, both bills died in committee without ever coming up for a vote. If either bill had passed, the law would have functioned very much like Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, allowing terminally ill patients who met certain requirements to request and use life-ending medication.

Advocating for a Death With Dignity Act in New York

Citizen groups are continuing to work to legalize aid in dying in New York. If choice at the end of life is important to you, here are some things you can do:

  • Contact your representatives in the state assembly or state senate and encourage them to support death with dignity in New York.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
  • Tell your family, friends, health care providers, and others why you believe terminally ill patients should be allowed to choose aid in dying.
  • Search for—or start—a community advocacy group. The Compassion & Choices website can help you connect with others in your area.

Making a Living Will or an Advance Directive

“Death with dignity” is one of the most commonly accepted phrases describing the process by which a terminally ill person ingests prescribed medication to hasten death. You may also see the phrase “right to die” used in place of “death with dignity.” However, “right to die” is more accurately used in the context of directing one’s own medical care -- that is, refusing life-sustaining treatment such as a respirator or feeding tubes when permanently unconscious or close to death. In any state, you have a right to provide such directions or give any other health care instructions by completing an advance health care directive.

For information about appointing a health care agent and making known your wishes for medical care at the end of life, see the Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney section of Nolo.com.

Learn More

To find out more about the history and current status of death with dignity laws in the United States, visit the website of the Death With Dignity National Center.

Updated September 24, 2018

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