As the alarming trend towards legalizing physician assisted suicide makes inroads across the nation and around the globe, Agudath Israel of America has filed an amicus curiae brief in a major case that will be heard by the highest court in New York, the New York State Court of Appeals.
The case, Myers v. Schneiderman, is an effort by proponents of physician assisted suicide to use the courts to overturn New York’s current ban on assisted suicide. The plaintiffs argue that existing end of life laws were never intended to restrict terminally ill, mentally competent patients from deciding that they no longer wanted to live, and that such persons enjoy a constitutional right to enlist their doctors’ help in committing suicide. The lower courts rejected this claim, but now it is before the state’s highest court.
In its friend of the court brief, Agudath Israel pointed to the experience of its Chayim Aruchim division, which has handled hundreds of cases where critically ill patients and their families have been subjected to relentless pressure to allow physicians to withhold lifesaving treatment in end of life situations.
“In a very significant number of cases, the health care facilities have simply refused to provide the treatment the patient or his health care proxy requested, claiming that the patient’s ‘quality of life’ is so diminished that there is no point in pursuing treatment,” stated the brief. “In our experience, health care facilities have withdrawn nutrition, hydration, medication, and other forms of life support from patients even over the adamant objections of the health-care decision-makers for the patient, and against the explicit wishes of the patient as stated in the patient’s advanced health care directive.”
The brief noted that legalizing physician assisted suicide would serve to give doctors and others in the medical arena extra ammunition in their quest to divest themselves of the responsibility of treating critically ill patients. It would add another pressure point they may exercise in dealing with such patients: the fact that the patient would now have the right to enlist medical intervention to hasten his own death.
The Agudah brief, prepared by Mordechai Biser, general counsel for Chayim Aruchim, Avrohom Weinstock, Agudath Israel’s associate director of education affairs, and University of Pennsylvania law student Reuven Rosen, concluded its legal analysis with a plea to the court to affirm the decision of the lower courts, and thereby uphold the sanctity of human life.
In a related development, Agudath Israel advocates continued to press the case against physician assisted suicide in the New York State legislature, which is considering proposed legislation that would permit the practice.
“Whether in the courts or in the legislature,” declared Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president, “we must stand firm against the dangerous movement to turn healers into killers. This is simply unacceptable in any society that considers itself civilized.”
The Court of Appeals has set May 30, 2017 as the date on which it will hear oral arguments in the Myers case.