Candle Lighting Ceremony Honors Those Who Died While Urging Passage of NY Medical Aid in Dying Act
“22 Special People Died – Many Suffering – While NY Legislature Failed to Pass this Compassionate End-of-Life Care Option”
Legislators Join Still-Grieving Family Members from Across New York
(Albany – April 27, 2022) Scores of advocates and relatives of advocates who have died over the last six years since the Medical Aid in Dying Act was originally introduced in 2016 participated in an emotional candle lighting ceremony in the Legislative Office Building this morning to honor their memory and to urge the Legislature to not end session in June without passing the bill. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Westchester), along with more than 65 cosponsors in the two houses.
Medical aid in dying allows a terminally ill, mentally capable adult with six months or less to live to request a prescription for medication from their doctor they can take when their suffering becomes too great to bear and die peacefully. Ten states, along with Washington, D.C., authorize medical aid in dying. A recent Marist poll shows strong support, 59-36 percent, for medical aid in dying among New York state voters, with majority support among Republicans, Democrats and independents, upstaters and downstaters, regardless of race or gender.
“More than 20 advocates – who have all died during the course of our six-year campaign – met with legislators, spoke at rallies and news conferences, organized family and friends, and so much more. Most did this while actively dying, weakened from treatments. Many of these brave people became friends,” said Corinne Carey, Compassion & Choices Senior New York Campaign Director. “Hearing about a friend’s suffering death is heartbreaking. Hearing it over and over and over is devastating. These 22 special people died – many begging for this compassionate end-of-life care option – while lawmakers ignored them. They and their amazing families will always hold a place in my heart and each death has fueled my resolve to pass this bill.”
- Susan Barra
- Lisa Britteri
- Youssef Cohen
- Zachary Cohen
- Jacques D’Amboise
- Bonnie Edelstein
- Ayla Rain Eilert
- John Flynn
- Joan Grundrum
- Joan Haberman
- Barbara Hammer
- Gene Hughes
- Bernadette Hoppe
- Jay Kallio
- Dr. Robert Milch
- Jennifer Milich
- Sara Myers
- Zoe O.
- Deborah Panitch
- Anne Allbright Smith
- Jim Wiggins
- Fay Hoh Yin
Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), prime sponsor of S.6471, said, “Nothing would make me happier than to pass this bill into law during my final session in the State Senate. My colleagues and I are trying to make it happen but the truth is we still need more support to move it over the finish line. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with so many of these brave New Yorkers. They simply wanted the ability to have a peaceful death when the end became inevitable. Their loved ones supported them, and they are here today to tell their stories – their truths – to legislators. I don’t know how that won’t move the dial.”
Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), prime sponsor of A.4321a, said, “I’ve said it before: the memories of my sister’s horrific suffering at the end of her life are forever seared into my mind. I know what my sister and our whole family went through. I know what those gathered today in Albany have gone through – are going through. Let me be even more clear. Nobody who’s opposed to medical aid in dying will be adversely affected by passage of this law. Not one person. But nothing could be more important to that small number of terminally ill New Yorkers who are, or fear, suffering at the end. Enough is enough. My colleagues need to join us and pass it.
Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “This bill is about patient autonomy and dignity. For over 100 years, New York law has recognized that adults with mental capacity have the right to refuse life-saving treatment. Morally and legally, patients should also have the right to end their suffering through medication if that is their choice. Before I chair my last Health Committee meeting, I look forward to seeing Medical Aid in Dying passed into law so that New York can join New Jersey, Vermont, and eight other states that already allow this.”
Daren Eilert, whose 24-year-old daughter, Ayla Rain Eilert, died from metastatic tongue cancer on April 2 in Manhattan, said, “She knew the option of medical aid in dying wasn’t available in New York, hoped and prayed that all of the individuals, all the doctors, all the different palliative teams that promised her she wouldn’t be in pain, she hoped they were right. And that wasn’t the case. Clearly, my daughter needlessly suffered.”
Lindsay Wright, Manhattan, whose husband Youssef Cohen died in 2016, said, “In 2016, at 68, my husband died of mesothelioma. It’s a rare, incurable cancer of the lungs; death is by suffocation. But he didn’t die here in New York; he actually died on the other coast in Portland, Oregon where they passed medical aid-in-dying legislation more than 20 years before in 1994. Think of it. We moved 3,000 miles across the country so that he could take advantage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. Why? Because New York didn’t offer that option. And it still doesn’t. Just weeks before he died, Youssef said ‘I’m going to die anyhow, and this seems to me a much more humane way of dying.’ It is an outrage that dying New Yorkers do not yet have this option. I call on our state legislators to pass Medical Aid in Dying NOW!”
Melissa Milch, Buffalo, whose dad, Dr. Robert Milch, died in 2021, said, “This week, last year, my dad — who co-founded Hospice Buffalo and dedicated his life to caring for people at the end of their lives – was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer. He died four weeks later. We come here today not for legislators’ condolences and sympathy, rather we come here today to fulfill the dying wishes of our loved ones and the wishes of the families of loved ones who have suffered so needlessly. While my dad’s illness and subsequent death were not avoidable, the needless suffering HE endured at the end of his life because of the Legislature’s failure to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act was avoidable.”
Monona Yin, Brooklyn, whose mom Fay Hoh Yin died in 2020, said, “My amazing mother, Fay Hoh Yin, died in my Brooklyn home two years ago after a six-year struggle with lymphoma. Mom worked very hard to stay alive, enduring multiple courses of chemo, radiation and transfusions. By the end, Mom was skin and bones, struggling to breathe. She couldn’t understand why she should be made to suffer to the bitter end. My mother did not find suffering to be ennobling, nor honorable. She thought it pure misery, even with the best palliative care. I wouldn’t ask anyone to consider medical aid in dying; it’s an individual decision. But I ask our state legislators to stop blocking people like my mother from having the option and the peace of mind that comes with it.
Karis Wiggins, Syracuse, whose dad Jim Wiggins died in 2017, said, “It’s been five years since my Dad passed away and I still miss him greatly every day. And I am still angry that despite everything he believed and everything he advocated for, he still died suffering. Here’s what my Dad said before he died: ‘I do not believe that suffering is a value, nor do I believe that God intends for anyone to suffer. My wife and I want the option of medical aid in dying for the comfort and peace of mind that it will bring. Maybe we’ll use it, maybe we won’t – it will depend on our perspectives at that moment in our lives.’ He should have had that option. It’s time for New York to join the 11 other jurisdictions that authorize medical aid in dying.”
Ethan Milich, Buffalo, whose mom Jennifer Milich died in Buffalo in March, said, “My mother fought an amazing battle because she wanted to live. But she reached a point where living became unbearable. A few months before she died, Mom recorded a selfie video in which she said, ‘This isn’t surviving. This isn’t even existing. This is suffering. Please consider passing the bill for the right to die with dignity and peace.’ Mom died in hospice, in a facility where she spent months – often unconscious, often suffering – just waiting to die. That slow, suffering death was exactly what she feared. And I know that it killed her inside that not only was she suffering, but her family was watching her suffer. It’s wrong. It’s time for the Legislature to do the right thing and stop needless suffering.”
The legislation is supported by numerous advocacy groups in the state including, among others: New York State Academy of Family Physicians, New York Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters of New York State, StateWide Senior Action Council, NYS Public Health Association, Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, NOW-NY, ACT UP NY, Harlem United, Latino Commission on AIDS, Latinos for Healthcare Equity, the WESPAC Foundation, and SAGE NY, which advocates for and provides healthcare and other services to LGBT elders. You can see many memos in support from these and other organizations here.
Compassion & Choices is the nation’s oldest, largest and most active nonprofit organization committed to expanding and improving healthcare options at the end of life. Compassion & Choices New York is leading the campaign to give mentally capable, terminally ill New Yorkers the same legal option to request medical aid in dying that people currently have in 10 other states – including New York neighbors Vermont and New Jersey – as well as Washington, D.C. For more information, visit: CompassionAndChoices.org/NewYork.