NY’s highest court to weigh physician-assisted suicide lawsuit

NY’s highest court to weigh physician-assisted suicide lawsuit

New York’s highest court will hear arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit that seeks to effectively undo the state’s statute against physician-assisted suicide.

An advocacy group, “End of Life Choice New York,” along with some terminally ill patients, and physicians, lawyers and the New York Civil Liberties Union, will ask the Court of Appeals to view “aid in dying,” as the groups call it, as different from “suicide.” They say lower courts — which have ruled against them — have erred in applying a “dictionary definition of suicide.”

The advocates are pressing the lawsuit at the same time they are intensely lobbying state legislators to change the law this year to allow physician-assisted suicide.

On the other side, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office will defend state law that makes “promoting a suicide attempt” — defined in part as intentionally causing or aiding another person to attempt suicide — a felony. The New York State Catholic Conference and “Not Dead Yet,” a group of disability activists, are among those that have filed legal briefs in the case supporting the current state ban.

Two lower courts have upheld the state law. The courts said that the “straightforward meaning” of the word “suicide” applies to “aid in dying.”

“Whatever label one puts on the act that plaintiffs are asking us to permit, it unquestionably fits that literal description, since there is a direct causative link between the medication proposed to be administered by plaintiff physicians and their patients’ demise,” the Appellate Division, New York’s midlevel appeals court ruled.

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