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New York’s High Court Rejects Right to Peaceful Death

The New York Court of Appeals ruled today that the state’s constitution does not protect the right of mentally competent, terminally ill patients to receive a physician’s assistance in securing a peaceful death. The New York Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief earlier this year in support of such a constitutional right in the case, Myers v. Schneiderman.

The NYCLU brief noted that mentally competent individuals who are terminally ill often go to great lengths to cure their illnesses, enduring aggressive medical interventions. However, they are often blocked by state law from making informed medical decisions with their doctors about the circumstances of their impending death. The New York Court of Appeals had previously held that competent adults have a constitutional right to determine their own course of medical treatment. The NYCLU argued that this constitutional right of physical autonomy should embrace the right of competent, terminally ill persons to determine, with physician assistance, when and how life-ending treatment should take place.

The following statement is attributed to NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman:

“Today’s decision deprives New Yorkers who are dying a basic measure of control and comfort as they near the end of their lives. No one who is coping with a terminal illness should be forced to endure needless suffering or be denied a death with dignity. We must now demand enlightened and compassionate legislation from our representatives in Albany, one that honors and respects the wishes of our fellow New Yorkers during the most trying time of their lives.”

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