Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas urges rejection of assisted-suicide bill

Albany Times Union
By: Richard Thomas

As mayor of a majority-minority community, I know firsthand the difficulties residents with income challenges face in obtaining adequate health care access. Many of our constituents cannot afford to see a primary care doctor and, if we are lucky enough to obtain services, we do not get the same level of personalized attention found in wealthier communities. With the recent introduction of assisted suicide legislation in New York state, this unequal access is turning into a matter of life or death.

My administration has made it a priority to protect the health and safety of the people of Mount Vernon, so when we see politicians in Albany focusing on end of life measures rather than saving life measures, we get concerned.

The concern and disapproval surrounding assisted suicide is particularly strong in the African-American and Latino communities, and for good reason. Minority communities simply do not have access to nutritious food or generous health insurance. We lack parks to exercise in and clean air to breathe. When end-of-life issues arise, minority populations are already at a disadvantage and they carry that disadvantage with them into the doctor’s office.

These motives force me to remind you of the ethic of reciprocity: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. One’s sole interaction with a doctor shouldn’t be his or her last one.

The debate concerning end of life care has always been framed as a left vs. right issue, progressive vs. conservative, and religious vs. secular. The truth is, assisted suicide laws preserve the status quo and benefit the haves over the have-nots. All of our ethical and religious teachings remind us to care for the marginalized and oppressed. Any discussion of choice is a misnomer. Should our state Legislature pass assisted suicide legislation, the impact will be severe.

The current bill (A.5261B) is proposed by legislators representing largely homogenous and affluent communities. It will permit doctors to prescribe a lethal overdose of pills to patients they deem to have six months or less to live. The bill requires next to no oversight. It doesn’t require a person to be evaluated for depression or that their family is notified of their assisted suicide request.

Minority communities are at risk because we simply don’t have the ability to access long-term mental health care treatment for depression, nor can we afford health care costs associated with treatment. Many may fear being a burden on their families and loved ones. Assisted suicide is not a choice when the person facing it has never had adequate access to doctors and hospitals, healthy food and healthy communities. The pressures and challenges experienced in minority neighborhoods are simply not felt in rich towns, which is why you only see advocacy for assisted suicide on the high end of the socioeconomic scale.

Last year, California passed a law legalizing assisted suicide despite sharp criticism from representatives of the African-American and Latino communities. The law has not even taken effect yet, and one of their state senators representing a very wealthy, mainly Caucasian community is proposing new legislation to create a toll-free, state-funded hotline for people seeking assisted suicide. Instead of the state funding avenues for people to end their lives, it should be funding initiatives and programs to help people preserve their lives.

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