Why physician-assisted suicide is gaining ground in Albany

Last updated on May 7, 2024

With help from Shawn Ness

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Happening now:

  • Will this be the year that lawmakers approve physician-assisted suicide?
  • Mayor Eric Adams came to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s defense of her gaffe.
  • New York sports legends visited the state Capitol today. Here’s why.
  • The state Senate is passing a long list of environmental bills.

The list of sponsors of the Medical Aid in Dying Act has steadily increased since it was first introduced in 2016.

A LONG SOUGHT LAW: Advocates have fought for a decade to legalize physician-assisted suicide in New York. They are hoping this year that the fight will end.

During any busy week in the Capitol in Albany, it’s hard to miss the throngs of activists donning bright yellow shirts and doggedly handing out stickers to lawmakers and lobbyists.

Medical aid in dying, or the right for a physician to prescribe life-ending medication to suffering, terminally-ill patients, has long been a priority for hundreds of activists who have watched their loved ones suffer unnecessarily during their final days of life.

But in the last year, the push to legalize physician-assisted suicide — which is already law in California, New Jersey and eight other states — has been gaining ground.

The list of sponsors for the bill, now totaling 80 lawmakers, has increased steadily since the current iteration was introduced in 2016. State Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton and Assemblymembers Amy Paulin and Tony Simone held a packed rally this afternoon outside the Senate chamber in favor of the bill.

And key groups, like the New York Bar Association and New York Civil Liberties Union, have queued up in support of the bill, helping it gain new momentum.

The Medical Society of the State of New York also reversed its longstanding opposition to the Medical Aid in Dying Act last month.

Their cause is clear: Let people die with dignity.

But despite the increased support, the three people with the real power in Albany — Gov. Kathy Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — have shied away from taking a position on the bill.

And Stewart-Cousins suggested movement on the bill this year — with only 16 days left of session — is unlikely.

“I believe this is a robust discussion, and obviously, we’re not there yet,” she said. “It’s a matter of information. It’s a matter of education, and then we get to see if we can actually do things that change life for the better.”

And the push to legalize the practice faces opposition. The Catholic Conference of New York strongly opposes the measure.

Some doctors have also raised concerns that legalizing physician-assisted suicide could create a sort of slippery slope, where people who aren’t gravely terminally-ill, but instead deeply-depressed, could take advantage of the law to end their own life. They point to examples of that happening in Canada.

Dr. Eve Slater, a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University and former assistant secretary to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, has organized a group of medical professionals who oppose the bill.

She’s concerned physician-assisted suicide violates a key provision of the Hippocratic oath: Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.

“It is suicide, and, you know, they hope that somehow by getting a physician involved that somehow makes it OK,” Slater said. She’s also worried the bill gives an avenue for those with non-terminal illnesses to cut their life short.

“The lawyers go to work and say, ‘Well, you know, how can you deny it to my client when you’ve allowed it for somebody else?’” — Jason Beeferman

ADAMS DEFENDS HOCHUL’S ‘COMPUTER’ ERROR: Mayor Eric Adams strongly defended Hochul after she made an embarrassing gaffe on Monday, and he said those who’ve piled on to criticize the governor are simply playing “word police.”

“I know her heart, I know what she was intending to say, and she was not trying to be disrespectful of the people of the Bronx,” Adams said.

The governor made the now-roundly criticized comments during a fireside chat with MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart at the Milken Institute Global Conference in California.

“Right now we have, you know, young Black kids growing up in the Bronx who don’t even know what the word ‘computer’ is,” she told Capeheart while discussing a massive state investment into artificial intelligence computing.

She quickly apologized, saying in a statement that “I misspoke and I regret it,” and Assembly Speaker Heastie stood by her saying, “I don’t believe that is where her heart is.” Stewart-Cousins echoed Heastie’s words of support earlier today.

Adams spoke at length to defend Hochul today during his weekly availability with reporters.

“When you make thousands of speeches, when you’re in front of the cameras all the time, when you’re trying to be authentic and say the things that you’re really feeling, one could sit back and do a critical analysis of every sentence you say and say ‘Oh you didn’t say it this way or that way,’” the mayor continued.

“So those who want to word police in this business, you go right ahead. The people of the Bronx knew where her heart was. She’s sincere about uplifting the people. We don’t always get it right.” — Jason Beeferman

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes took a test drive in a car that has a speed limiter installed to ensure drivers don't exceed the posted speed limits.

TAKING A TEST DRIVE: State Sen. Andrew Gounardes stepped into the BMW for a test drive outside the state Capitol today. It was for a purpose: in support of legislation to install speed limiters on peoples’ cars.

The bill is designed to curb traffic fatalities, where excessive speed plays a factor in roughly one-third of deaths.

It would require the speed limiters, also known as “governors,” to override the vehicle’s acceleration, preventing it from going over the speed limit. It would only be installed for “repeat offenders,” defined as people who have gotten over 11 points on their license in an 18-month period, or have received six speed camera or red light camera tickets during a 12-month period.

The technology uses geolocation to get an accurate roadmap of speed limits. It is accurate enough to even distinguish between passing lanes and standard driving lanes.

“Nothing is in our laws today to crack down on the most reckless drivers on our streets. So we’re here to say that enough is enough. We don’t have to search for a brand new idea under the sun in order to solve this crisis,” Gounardes, a Manhattan Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said.

After the test drive, Gounardes said that the car would not accelerate past the speed limit, despite his best efforts.

“The drive was really smooth, but the tech works—even when I floored it, I couldn’t accelerate beyond what the device permitted. It’s easy to use, there’s no jerking of the wheel or distracting beeps. You just drive,” he said.

Dash cam footage was recorded of his drive. — Shawn Ness

FOREIGN DEBT: The former president of Costa Rica made an appearance outside of the Assembly chambers in the Capitol today to advocate for the Sovereign Debt Stability Act.

The bill gives countries that are in debt options to restructure their debts to help limit forced migration of people from the struggling countries.

“More than half of the world’s private debt is located [in New York],” former president of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, said. “Creating a procedure for readjusting debt is critical for developing countries.”

Seventy-six percent of asylum-seekers in New York hail from countries that have debt crises.

“I am convinced that this is something or state can do, and must do,” state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, the bill’s sponsor said. “These institutions are here, they are based here, and they do what they do because we allow them to.” — Shawn Ness

State Sen. Joe Addabbo brought in a former Yankee legend Tino Martinez (right) and Giants hero David Tyree (left) to voice support for an expansion of sport gambling options.

FANTASY ISLAND: Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Chair Joe Addabbo wants to expand gambling options. And he brought some New York sports history firepower to the argument.

Addabbo today in Albany was flanked by former Yankee first baseman Tino Martinez and ex-Giant wide receiver David Tyree to push for a measure that would expand daily fantasy sports wagering.

In essence, the bill would allow for bets on the individual outcome of an athlete’s performance (placing a wager, for instance, on whether Bills quarterback Josh Allen throws for more than 200 yards in a game).

“My mom is 82 years old, and she plays fantasy football and it keeps her involved with the grandkids,” Martinez said. “It’s a great way for the family to come together.”

If approved, the measure would be added to the suite of offerings for sports gamblers, which currently include sportsbooks in casinos as well as mobile sports betting. New York already has the highest grossing online sports betting operation in the nation.

“This is a parallel track,” Addabbo said of his fantasy sports bill. “Fantasy sports is certainly separate from mobile sports betting. It enhances it.”

The Queens Democrat also wants the age of participation to be 21 and insisted the measure includes “safeguards” meant to prevent addiction as well as corrupt outcomes in games.

He expects the measure would generate $150 million in tax revenue for the state.

Having Tyree and Martinez in Albany, meanwhile, helped heighten interest in the measure. Athletes have often been enlisted to help promote legislation (and allow lawmakers, lobbyists and yes, even reporters, to geek out a bit).

Tyree said it was “a weird question” and “no comment” when asked if he was being compensated for the appearance. Martinez said he was not paid an appearance fee. Nick Reisman

ERA OPPONENTS WIN: Republicans have won the first round in a legal fight over whether New York’s Equal Rights Amendment should appear on the ballot this November.

A judge hearing a challenge brought in Livingston County concluded today that the Democratic-dominated Legislature didn’t take the proper steps before bringing the amendment for a vote, since they didn’t give the attorney general the constitutionally-mandated 20 days to review the language.

“In their rush to pass this amendment, the legislature never held a single hearing on the proposal, never consulted with outside constitutional experts, and falsely asserted this amendment was necessary to protect abortion rights in the state,” state GOP Chair Ed Cox said in response to the ruling.

Democrats, who are planning to use the amendment’s language on abortion to motivate their base this November, promise an appeal.

“According to the reading of all of our very competent counsel, the lack of the AG’s opinion does not negate the validity of our amendment,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “We will certainly appeal that so that people will have the right to vote this November in terms of codifying our reproductive choices.”

For her part, Hochul vowed that the ERA will make the November ballot.

“Our decades-long fight to protect equality and reproductive freedom will not be thrown off track by one extremist judge, and I look forward to casting my ballot for the Equal Rights Amendment in November,” she said in a statement. — Bill Mahoney

NYPD raided illegal weed shops across New York City today. Mayor Eric Adams warned shops that they have a

WEED RAIDS: The city did coordinated raids on illegal weed shops across all five boroughs today, ramping up enforcement weeks after getting greater enforcement powers in the state budget.

“We want to close them down. And if you’re out there, we have a lock with your name on it,” Adams said in his weekly press conference.

With cinematic flair, City Sheriff Anthony Miranda appeared live on camera during the briefing from inside a shop down the street from City Hall that he accused of selling illegal mushrooms, cannabis and cigarettes.

“They have violated every statute that we have, in terms of the new laws and protections that we have,” Miranda said. “And we’ll be sealing these locations after the inspections.”

The city wasn’t previously shutting down shops caught violating cannabis control laws. Now they can, deeming it “Operation Padlock to Protect.” But Adams warned that shop owners could still challenge the rulings and apply to reopen again. “There’s still a procedure,” he said. Jeff Coltin

DATA BREACH AT CITY SCHOOLS: City Hall is continuing to work to address a data breach to the city’s public school system.

“The safety and well-being of our students is always the priority,” Camille Joseph Varlack, chief of staff to Mayor Eric Adams, told reporters at a press conference at City Hall today, adding the city has been engaging Illuminate, its former software vendor. “We have been working closely with Illuminate for a while now on this particular breach.”

An additional 380,000 current and former students saw their personal data compromised in a digital attack that took place from late December to early January 2022, the New York Post reported Sunday. The agency originally said 800,000 pupils were affected by the infiltration.

Varlack said no financial information or Social Security numbers were impacted. The Department of Education is also offering two years of free credit and identity monitoring services to any individual who received a letter from the agency.

Adams said his predecessor Bill de Blasio informed him that cybersecurity “is a real issue.” Matthew Fraser, the city’s chief technology officer, opened an office that trains young people in cybersecurity, he added.

“We’re encouraging young people to go into the field,” the mayor said. “Other cities have been hacked, held hostage, sent ransom notes. It’s a global problem, and we are being inundated every day by outside influence, other countries trying to hack our systems.” Madina Touré

Several environmental bills are going to be up for consideration by the end of session in June, among them is the Climate Change Superfund.

SENATE MOVES EARTH DAY BILLS: A belated celebration of Earth Day in the Senate means the passage of several environmental measures, with uncertain prospects for passage as the session careens toward a close.

“Our words are only as good as our actions, which is why it’s imperative that we modernize our energy systems, protect our clean drinking water and address climate change,” said Stewart-Cousins at a press conference today.

Among the bills slated for passage today is the Climate Change Superfund measure, which would charge fossil fuel companies for historical emissions that have contributed to climate change. The measure would raise $3 billion annually for investments to adapt to climate impacts in New York, but it doesn’t have support from Assembly leaders or Hochul.

“Taxpayers shell out hundreds of millions of dollars a year on just trying to mediate and repair damage caused by climate change,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsors the bill.

“We continue to pass our bills and we continue conversations and I’m sure they’ll be moving on things too,” said Stewart-Cousins when asked about what conversations she’d had with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie about the Climate Superfund bill and NY HEAT. “So we will get there.”

Other bills the Senate plans to pass, versions of which passed last year and died in the Assembly, include state Sen. Pete Harckham’s measure (S2994) to phase out No. 4 fuel oil in buildings by 2028; his expansion of the food scrap donation program (S5331); state Sen. Nathalia Fernandez’s measure (S3328) to require more fenceline monitoring of air emissions at industrial sites; state Sen. Brad Holyman-Sigal’s measure (S1535) to require EV chargers at some state parking lots and garages and his proposal to ban PFAS in anti-fogging sprays and wipes (S992); state Sen. Leroy Comrie’s wildlife crossing bill (S4198); and state Sen. Jose Serrano’s bill to prohibit gas drilling on state lands (S724).

A spokesperson for the Assembly Democrats did not provide a list of environmental bills planned for a vote in the chamber this week. — Marie J. French

PUSH FOR GUN REFORM: A group of moms, students, advocates and lawmakers rallied at a church blocks away from the state capitol today to support a package of legislation on gun reform. 

One bill introduced by state Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Michaelle Solages would prohibit the sale of any semi-automatic handguns that can easily be converted into fully automatic machine guns through the use of a Glock switch.

Current Glock owners would no longer be allowed to use the mechanism. The bill would also bar the sale, possession and manufacturing of Glock switches, and it would make clear that a pistol with the mechanism is considered to be a machine gun.

Another bill sponsored by Senate and Assembly Education Committee chairs Shelley Mayer and Michael Benedetto would mandate the state Education Department to create informational materials to educate parents on safe storage laws.

“I think we have many parents who really are new to this country, new to our communities, even people that have been here a long time, they don’t know what we pass,” Mayer said. “We have to do more than expect that people will know. Given the history of gun violence we have to actually get out there and make sure that they know.”

New York United Teachers President Melinda Person said many parents are often unaware of gun storage laws for households with children under age 18.

“If this notification is something that gets into the backpack mail and saves one life, it’s worth it,” Person said to POLITICO. — Katelyn Cordero

Samantha Mathis (far left), Rosario Dawson (left) and John Carroll Lynch (top right) joined
lawmakers and advocates to push legislation that would regulate the use of AI in the entertainment industry on May 7, 2024.

ACTORS PUSH FOR A.I. REGULATIONS: A star studded press conference took place on the Million Dollar Staircase in the Capitol, where lawmakers were joined by Rosario Dawson, John Carroll Lynch and Samantha Mathis in a push to pass legislation that will regulate the use of artificial intelligence in the entertainment industry.

The group is looking to pass three bills, the first requires employers to provide legal representation when a contract involves the rights of digital replication of a person’s voice or likeness in place of physical work.

This bill is on the move, as it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today, and bill sponsor state Sen. Jessica Ramos said she is hopeful it will pass both houses by the end of session next month.

“AI is here to stay, and I’d like to say our responsibility is to ensure that labor law is keeping pace with the changes in this and all other industries where workers are trying to earn a dignified wage,” Ramos said to reporters.

“These motion picture companies are pretty much allowing these performers to lend their voice and their likeness to feed into AI, that should not happen without informed consent of the performer.”

A second bill would prohibit the state’s film tax credit for use on productions that plan to use artificial intelligence in the place of employees.

And the final bill would require all advertisers to disclose when they are using artificial intelligence in their content. Violators would have to pay a $1,000 penalty for their first violation. After the first violation they would pay $5,000 for each penalty. — Katelyn Cordero

— A prominent transit union leader plans to sue Columbia University over alleged mistreatment of school staffers during a building seizure last week. (POLITICO)

— After a tenant in Manhattan was treated for arsenic poisoning, she and her neighbors are demanding tests of their tap water. (POLITICO)

— Adams says New York City is ‘ready’ if former President Donald Trump is jailed. (POLITICO)