Last updated on: 7/27/2009 | Author:

New York State Task Force on Life and the Law Biography

Con to the question "Should Euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal?"

“[W]e continue to believe that legalized physician-assisted suicide would be profoundly dangerous for large segments of the population. Even those who support the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, however, should be concerned about the premises on which arguments for legalization are based. Assisted suicide for relatively rare cases of unrelievable suffering should not be justified by arguments that undermine the right to refuse medical treatment, which affects virtually every individual who ever seeks out medical care. The legalization of assisted suicide should also not jeopardize physicians’ willingness to administer effective medication for the treatment of severe pain, by claiming that death is an inevitable consequence of high doses of opioids, or by implying that physicians are legally and ethically accountable for the unintended harmful consequences of legitimate medical care. Maintaining the distinctions between assisted suicide, the refusal of treatment, and the use of high doses of opioids for the relief of pain, is essential to a coherent policy of end-of-life medical care. Conflating these issues may be rhetorically powerful for those who wish to legalize assisted suicide, but it will
ultimately weaken the autonomy of patients at the end of life.

The widespread public interest in physician-assisted suicide represents a symptom of a much larger problem: our collective failure to respond adequately to the suffering that patients often experience at the end of life. Improving palliative care, and attending to the psychological, spiritual, and social needs of dying patients, must be a critical national priority. Whether or not assisted suicide is ultimately legalized, we hope that those on all sides of the debate over legalization will join forces to help achieve this important goal.”

“Supplement to when Death Is Sought: Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the Medical Context,” New York State Task Force on Life and the Law website, 1997


“The New York State Task Force on Life and the Law was created in 1985, charged with devising public policy on a host of issues arising from medical advances, including: the determination of death, the withdrawal and withholding of life-sustaining treatment, organ transplantation, and new technologies and practices to assist reproduction. The Task Force encompasses expertise from many disciplines, and also reflects the wide spectrum of opinion and belief about bioethics issues in New York State. The founding chairman of the Task Force was Dr. David Axelrod. Dr. Richard F. Daines, the New York State Commissioner of Health, is the current chair. The Task Force has a full-time staff of four that conducts research and supports its other activities.

The Task Force is currently the only standing state government commission in the United States with a mandate to recommend public policy on a range of medical/ethical issues. The Task Force seeks to forge a consensus on pressing questions and to translate that consensus into concrete proposals for public policy. Recommendations by the Task Force have led to new legislation or regulation on a wide range of issues, including the determination of death, decisions about cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the health care proxy, organ and tissue transplantation, and surrogate parenting. The work of the Task Force has also been cited by the United States Supreme Court in decisions on assisted suicide.”

“History of the Task Force,” New York State Task Force on Life and the Law website (accessed July 16, 2009)


“Information for a Healthy New York.”

New York State Task Force on Life and the Law website (accessed July 16, 2009)

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Quoted in:
  1. Should Euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal?
  2. Is There a Legal Right to Die?