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Bad medicine

A church in New York City hosts a lightly attended event on legalizing physician-assisted suicide

Bad medicine

(Sean_Warren/iStock)

A New York moment:

I popped into a Compassion and Choices “community listening session” about the bill in New York to legalize physician-assisted suicide (or as the group terms it, “medical aid in dying”). That bill would allow physicians to prescribe fatal drugs that terminal patients would self-administer. Disability groups chiefly oppose the practice on the grounds that it would put economic and emotional pressure on the vulnerable or “less valuable" to end their lives. 

The bill has met opposition from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as the prominent Medical Society of New York, but assisted suicide advocates are confident that opposition is “cracking.” The upcoming election might move the state legislature further left; Republicans currently control the state Senate. 

The listening session took place at a progressive church, Judson Memorial, near Washington Square Park. The church, according to the introduction by senior minister Donna Schaper, is working on the “ongoing right to choose an abortion” and she noted that every week at their worship service they sing a “Broadway tune.” 

Barbara Coombs Lee, the head of Compassion and Choices, began her remarks by talking about the “legacy” of Judson, where longtime minister Howard Moody would take pregnant women to doctors who would perform illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s. 

“Tremendous bravery,” Lee said. 

Nine people showed up for the listening session and all but one were elderly; one gentleman fell asleep partway through. The questions all seemed motivated by heartbreaking anxiety about their own deaths; one woman asked if she followed through with taking fatal drugs if that would nullify her life insurance for her children (the staff promised it would not). Another asked how she could obtain the fatal drugs now, in case she got Alzheimer’s. 

Corinne Carey, who heads up the New York arm of Compassion and Choices, mentioned over and over the “politics of fear” coming from their opponents—which in New York includes medical associations, disability groups, Orthodox Jews, evangelicals, and Catholics. But if you listened to the anxiety about death and pain from the elderly in the room during the event and in conversations afterward, you might conclude that the politics of fear were at work here.   

Worth your time:  

We do need some laughter in politics these days, and the Philadelphia City Council provided it in this rambling resolution [PDF] welcoming Gritty, the nightmarish new mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers. 

“WHEREAS, Gritty’s storied arrival into Philadelphia was met with all the expected magnanimity of a city with a reputation for colorful and ardent fans and a creative, if skeptical, media, but as soon as Philadelphians realized non-Philadelphians were also mocking Gritty, we rose immediately to his defense,” reads the resolution.

Only one council member voted against the resolution, with the irrefutable argument that Gritty is “ugly.” 

This week I learned:

The de Blasio administration is ending its $773 million Renewal program to try to save failing public schools, with almost no progress to show for the money. 

A court case you might not know about: 

The atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation has sued the IRS (multiple times) to end the parsonage allowance, which allows houses of worship to provide tax-free housing for religious leaders. A district court ruled the tax break unconstitutional, but Becket Law has intervened in the case in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had a hearing last week.

Culture I am consuming: 

The beginning of the latest season of The Good Place, where a demon (Ted Danson) is trying to find redemption for his bumbling human charges and himself. 

Postscript: Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback. ebelz@wng.org