Right to Die legislation a controversial subject

Vacco worries about potential impact on elderly or disabled

Mike Baggerman
April 11, 2019 - 3:00 am

Brittany Maynard and her husband. Maynard became an icon for the "right to die" movement when she chose to have a doctor end her life on November 1, 2014. (USA Today Photo)

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Excerpts from the Associated Press' original report contributed to this story

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - Governor Andrew Cuomo's indication that he will sign legislation allowing people with a terminal illness to seek life-ending medication from a physician is a dangerous precedent to set according to attorney Dennis Vacco.

Vacco, the former New York State Attorney General, successfully argued in front of the United States Supreme Court in 1997 that physician assisted suicide was not a constitutionally protected right.

"At the time, the argument was an equal protection argument being brought by individuals who believe there was a constitutionally protected right to physician assisted suicide," Vacco said. "I happen to still disagree with changing the law, mostly because I'm concerned about the uncontrollability (of it). Once you move that line, it becomes a slippery slope and that line keeps moving."

Governor Cuomo said his support depends on the details of the legislation but said elected leaders should address the topic of physician assisted suicide. Prior legislation in Albany required two doctors to sign off on the use of life-ending medication but those bills haven't received a vote.

Some of the concerns from Vacco include "unscrupulous actors" like family members or physicians.

"There's too much risk for the most vulnerable people in our society like the elderly and disabled," Vacco added. "Today it's the people who are terminally ill back at the time I was arguing the case before the Supreme Court in 1997. The catchphrase was 'withering in pain and on a death-drenched bed'. I get the imagery of that and nobody is looking for someone to suffer, especially a loved one."

Vacco compared to "right to die" legislation to the abortion issue and said that despite Roe v. Wade's decision to protect abortion rights is still a controversial topic more than 45 years later.

"The concepts involved in that very important and complicated issue keep changing," Vacco said. "So why would one think that we're not going to experience the same dynamics with the concept of physician assisted suicide?"

With democrats in control of the legislative and executive branch of state government, Vacco expects that lawmakers will ultimately pass right to die legislation.  

Seven states and Washington, D.C. already allow people to seek a doctor's help in ending their life. New Jersey passed a similar measure in March and Governor Phil Murphy intends to sign the bill.

WNY based doctor, Stanley Bukowski, also discussed his views on the topic and explained the challenges for doctors. Hear that conversation below:

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