Cona Elder Law


Medical Aid in Dying Act Gains Momentum But Legislature Fails to Act

Since 2016, the New York State legislature has been considering a measure known as the Medical Aid in Dying Act, which would allow terminally ill people to access life-ending medication. Although the practice is currently legal in ten states and Washington, D.C., New York legislators have hesitated to take action on the proposed law in this state. However, within the last year, the measure has gained considerable momentum, with key endorsements from the Medical Society of the State of New York, the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, and the New York State Bar Association, along with some 50 other organizations. 

The Medical Aid in Dying Act would permit terminally ill adults to request prescriptions from their doctors for life-ending medications. The current version of the legislation includes a variety of safeguards intended to protect against any potential coercion or abuse. For example, the legislation calls for palliative and end of life care counseling. Only the patient themselves may request the life-ending medication. The request must be made both orally and in writing, and the written request must be witnessed by two adults who cannot be the patient’s spouse, domestic partner, family member or relative, beneficiary under a will or intestacy laws, or an agent under a health care proxy or power of attorney. Once a request has been made, two physicians must confirm: (1) the patient’s medical diagnosis; (2) that the patient’s condition is terminal and they will die within six months or less; and (3) that the patient is mentally competent. Unlike physician assisted suicide, the proposed law does not call for a physician or medical professional to administer that medication. The patient must be able to administer the life-ending medication themselves, without the assistance of a loved one or any other person (self-administration). The proposed legislation also allows individual physicians to decline to participate in providing life-ending medication. 

Opponents of the Medical Aid in Dying Act, including the Center for Disability Rights and the New York State Catholic Conference, caution that even with the proposed safeguards in place, a patient may still choose to end their life based on an inaccurate prognosis, or due to emotional or even financial pressure. They further argue that permitting medical aid in dying for the terminally ill is a slippery slope; once initial legislation is passed, lawmakers could expand eligibility for medical aid in dying in the future, leading to far broader use of such measures, they argue. As of June 6, 2024, the state legislature adjourned for its summer recess without taking any action on the Medical Aid in Dying Act. Nevertheless, its proponents appear more determined than ever to secure passage of the measure in the next legislative session. 

Cona Elder Law’s experienced attorneys continue to monitor the most recent developments regarding this issue and other important legal matters concerning the nursing home industry.  Contact us at 631.390.5000 or fill out a form to learn more about how our firm can help your facility preserve its bottom line and ensure your ability to continue to provide quality services to your nursing home residents. 

Originally published in the June 2024 edition of LeadingAge NY’s Newsletter.

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