Appeals Court in New York Strikes Down Assisted Suicide Law

Doctor holding patient's hand in hospital

In a unanimous decision last week, the New York State Court of Appeals struck down an attempt to legalize assisted suicide within the state. In 2015, three individuals with terminal illnesses filed suit against the State of New York, arguing that their rights were being violated under the state constitution's equal protection clause. The three plaintiffs also argued that denying terminally ill patients the right to die was not in the state's interest. The five judges on the New York Court of Appeals vehemently disagreed.

In summary, the court decided that:

Although New York has long recognized a competent adult's right to forgo life-saving medical care, we reject plaintiffs' argument that an individual has a fundamental constitutional right to aid-in-dying as they define it. We also reject plaintiffs' assertion that the State's prohibition on assisted suicide is not rationally related to legitimate state interests.

Two of the plaintiffs have died since the suit was filed, and the third, an eighty-year-old man, is in remission. Their argument that the prohibition against assisted suicide violates the equal protection clause is the same argument used by the United States Supreme Court to strike down state marriage laws, opening the door for same-sex marriage.

The released opinion of the court is full of legalese, but the message is clear: assisted suicide for the terminally ill constitutes a violation of the larger principle that life must be protected; that actively participating in the death of individuals through prescribed medicine is not akin to withholding care at the end of life, which is passive. Furthermore, legalizing assisted suicide opens a Pandora's box of manipulative abuse that would be directed at the elderly living in poverty as well as those who are disabled. The court writes that the state has an interest in "protecting vulnerable people from indifference, prejudice, and psychological and financial pressure to end their lives."

Assisted Suicide is a hot-button topic around the world. Many European nations and Canada have legalized it. In his short book Assisted Suicide, Vaughan Roberts writes, "Much of the drive for assisted suicide is promoted by a secular view, that we are nothing but naked apes."

Pushing back on the secular view, the Bible says that all humans, and only humans, are created in the image of God and have value, meaning, and dignity. Because of this, life is valuable and should be protected. Assisted suicide denies this by saying that human life is disposable. Roberts explains,

This should also make us see others differently. The most helpless infant, the most vulnerable and incapable disabled person, the most dependent old person who has lost their memory and their ability to cope — all of them have lives that are truly valuable because they are made in the image of God.

This is an important legal victory for those concerned about protecting life. Ultimately, the New York State Court of Appeals recognizes that life is a precious commodity, one that transcends shifting legal definitions and trends.