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NYS ‘aid in dying’ bill: Ethically complex and gaining support

Media Contact

Lindsey Knewstub

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced his support for The Medical Aid in Dying Act, which would allow terminally ill adults in New York to request and obtain prescriptions for life-ending medication from their doctors.

Clinical ethicist Dr. Kim Overby says given the complexity of aid in dying, it’s critical that the consequences of new legislation be evaluated. Professor of wildlife health and health policy, Steven Osofsky, shares a personal experience related to aid in dying.

Kim Overby

Professor of the Practice

Dr. Kim Overby is a clinical ethicist, professor of the practice at Cornell University and an expert on ethical issues encountered in contemporary healthcare settings with a particular focus on disability, chronic illness, and the healthcare experience of vulnerable and marginalized populations.

“Aid in dying raises a number of challenging ethical issues. In addition to different views on the underlying morality of this practice, people disagree about how best to balance the competing ethical values raised such as the right to self-determination, the importance of doing no harm, and our responsibility to protect vulnerable individuals and groups.

“Health care professionals are increasingly divided about whether their support and participation in this practice fundamentally conflicts with the goals of medicine and undermines the trust and fiduciary relationship between clinician and patient.

“On the societal level, much of the disagreement about this issue centers on how we perceive the broader social consequences of making aid in dying widely available and whether current protocols and safeguards are adequate to prevent unintended negative consequences for both individuals and groups.

“Given the ethical complexity of this issue, it is critical that we continually evaluate the consequences of new legislation. As the number of states that legalize aid in dying grows and more people utilize this option, a larger more diverse and nationally representative database will become available to better examine the potential benefits and harms of this practice.”

Steven Osofsky

Professor of Wildlife Health and Health Policy

Steven Osofsky, veterinarian and professor of wildlife health and health policy, recently wrote an op-ed sharing his personal experience with a death in the family and why he believes New York must change its position to allow sane, thoughtful people to decide when they would like to leave this earth.

“Each day, my terminally ill father told me, his doctor, and hospice staff that he wanted to die, on his own terms. When it comes to medical aid in dying, sane, thoughtful people who’ve reached old age and feel that they’ve had full lives, but see the discomfort and even agony of terminal illness as something they’d prefer to avoid, should not be hindered from deciding when they would like to leave this earth.

“Yes, there can be complicating factors related to mental competence, pressure from family members with selfish motives, etc. But we live in a system of checks and balances — laws and ethical guidelines. Electing to safely, comfortably and peacefully end one’s life before an aggressive disease becomes overwhelming seems like an extremely rational decision, one that should be left up to each of us if or when that time comes.”

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