The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS P. GRIESA
New York law makes it a crime to aid a person in committing suicide, or in attempting to commit suicide. Plaintiffs urge that these provisions violate the United States Constitution, to the extent that they apply to situations where a physician aids the commission of suicide by a mentally competent, terminally ill adult wishing to avoid continued severe suffering, by prescribing a death-producing drug which the patient takes. Plaintiffs claim that a person has a constitutional right to terminate his life under these circumstances, and that a physician has a corresponding constitutional right not to be prosecuted for aiding a patient in the exercise of the patient's right.
Plaintiffs move for a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the relevant statutes, §§ 125.15(3) and 120.30 of the New York Penal Law, to the extent they apply to physicians who give the kind of assistance described above. Defendants oppose plaintiffs' motion and cross-move for judgment on the pleadings dismissing the action.
Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction is denied. Defendants' cross-motion to dismiss the action is granted. The motion to dismiss will be treated as one for summary judgment since the court has considered matters outside the pleadings - i.e., declarations filed on the motion for preliminary injunction. There is no dispute on the essential facts and the issues presented are ones of law.
The action was commenced on July 20, 1994. The original complaint named three physician plaintiffs, Timothy E. Quill, Samuel C. Klagsbrun, and Howard A. Grossman. There were also three patient plaintiffs who asserted that they were terminally ill and wished to have the assistance of physicians in committing suicide. All three of the patient plaintiffs have now died, leaving only the three physician plaintiffs.
The original complaint named only the Attorney General of the State of New York as a defendant. However, it was argued that the Attorney General was not the proper defendant because he was not responsible for prosecutions under the criminal laws of the State. The complaint has now been amended to add as defendants Governor Mario M. Cuomo and New York County District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau. There is no longer any question about the fact that there are sufficient defendants present to allow the issues in the case to be litigated.
Amicus curiae briefs in opposition to plaintiffs' position have been filed by the New York State Catholic Conference and the Legal Center for the Defense of Life.
As to the three physician plaintiffs, the complaint alleged that, in the regular course of their medical practice, they treated terminally ill patients who requested assistance in the voluntary self-termination of life; that under certain circumstances it would be consistent with the standards of these physicians to prescribe medications to such patients which would cause death, since without such medical assistance these patients could not hasten their deaths in a certain and humane manner.
The original complaint alleged that the patient plaintiffs have a constitutional right under these circumstances to terminate their lives with this type of medical assistance; and that since the New York Penal Law makes it a crime to render such assistance, these provisions violate the constitutional rights of both the patient plaintiffs and the physician plaintiffs, specifically rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Amendments to the Complaint
An amended complaint was filed on October 14, 1994. By this time, two of the three patient plaintiffs had died. The allegations about the remaining patient plaintiff were carried over into the amended complaint, as were the claims of the physician plaintiffs.
The second amended complaint was filed October 20, 1994. It was essentially the same as the previous complaint except for naming New York County District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau as a defendant.
Subsequently, the third patient plaintiff died, thus leaving the three physicians as the only plaintiffs.
An answer was filed in August 1994 to the original complaint denying that plaintiffs have any valid claim. No amended answers were filed responding to the amended complaints, but the court deems the original answer to be a sufficient denial of plaintiffs' claims.
Declarations Filed On Motion
For Preliminary Injunction
The motion for preliminary injunction was filed on September 16, 1994. In support of the motion, each of the three patient plaintiffs submitted declarations which confirmed the allegations in the complaint and added details about their diseased conditions and suffering.
The three physician plaintiffs have submitted declarations affirming their belief that proper and humane medical practice should include the ability to prescribe medication which will enable a patient to commit ...