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February 04, 2015 Practice Points

Doctors and Terminal Patients Sue over NY Assisted-Suicide Law

The complaint alleges that evolving medical standards and public views support aid-in-dying.

By Sarah Anna Santos

Terminally ill patients, their doctors, and End of Life Choices New York, a nonprofit that provides counseling on end-of-life decision making, filed suit on February 4 seeking to effectively legalize in New York “aid-in-dying,” the practice by which physicians prescribe medication to their terminally ill, mentally competent patients to achieve a peaceful death. The suit seeks declaratory judgment that the New York law prohibiting assisted suicide does not apply to aid-in-dying, or, in the alternative, that the New York law violates the due-process and equal-protection provisions of the New York Constitution.  

Aid-in-dying is not suicide as used in New York’s Assisted Suicide Statute, according to the complaint.

Suicide precipitates a premature death of a life of otherwise indefinite duration, often motivated by treatable depression. In such cases, mental illness can impair the individual’s judgment. Aid-in-dying, in stark contrast, allows mentally-competent, terminally-ill patients who face impending death due to the progression of terminal illness to make a rational, informed, autonomous choice.

In the alternative, says the complaint, if the term “suicide” as used in the New York law does include aid-in-dying, the statute discriminates against the plaintiffs, depriving them of equal protection under the law, and violates the patient plaintiffs’ rights to privacy without due process of law.

The complaint alleges that evolving medical standards and public views support aid-in-dying.

The case is Myers et al. v. Schneiderman et al., in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York. It has not yet been assigned a case number.

— Sarah Anna Santos, Hunton & Williams LLP, Charlotte, NC

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