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Both Sides Get Ready To Debate End of Life Issues

by | Mar 16, 2015 2:54pm
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Posted to: Aging, Courts, Equality, Ethics, Health Care, Insurance, Nonprofits, State Capitol

Christine Stuart photo

Tim Appleton, Connecticut campaign manager for Compassion & Choices, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg and Sen. Gary Winfield

Proponents of a controversial bill permitting doctors help terminally ill patients end their lives are hoping modifications to last year’s proposal, a change of venue, and national awareness of the issue will help get the bill passed.

A lobbyist for Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organization committed to giving people choices at the end of their lives, said this year’s bill requires a terminally ill, mentally competent patients to ask their attending physicians for a prescription to help end their lives not once, but twice. It also requires a 15-day waiting period between those requests. Both of the requests require an affidavit that must be witnessed by two people. Those two people can’t be an heir, relative, an employee of the medical facility, or the doctor.

Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, a vocal supporter of the legislation, said he doesn’t expect the opposition to change their minds based on the changes made to the bill. However, he said, the debate feels much larger than it did last year.

“It’s a larger, louder conversation,” Winfield said. “It’s got traction in ways it didn’t a year ago.”

One of the reasons the debate has gotten larger and louder is the story of Brittany Maynard.

Maynard, 29, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and garnered national media attention when she moved to Oregon to take advantage of its death with dignity law. She took her own life on Nov. 1, 2014.

Maggie Karner of Bristol, who suffers from the same form of brain cancer as Maynard, said, “Brittany put a face on it first and made it personal.”

Christine Stuart photo

Maggie Karner of Bristol and Cathy Ludlum of Manchester

But the message Karner wants to send is that it’s not about any individual.

“It’s about all of us as a society and radical changes to how we practice healthcare and how we operate as a society,” Karner said. “It’s not about individuals, so you have to take emotions out of it.”

At a press conference Monday, Karner said she’s not looking forward to how her disease is going to progress, “but if we endorse patient suicide as our statewide policy for dealing with pain and the financial burdens at the end of life — we’re going to end up embracing a whole new ethic that confuses compassionate medical care with a prescription for death.”

Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, said the organization understands Maynard was a “strong woman,” but “laws against assisted suicide are to protect the weak and vulnerable in our society.”

He said the disabled and the elderly could feel added pressure to end their lives if the legislation passed.

“There are no safeguards you could put in this bill that would make it safe,” Wolfgang said. “That would make the underlying premise a good thing.”

Stephen Glassman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said there are “smart safeguards” in the legislation.

“If we respect people’s decisions about life, we must also give equal respect to their personal assessments regarding their end of life decisions,” he said.

This year’s bill was drafted with the help of the Connecticut Bar Association and has the support of House Speaker Brendan Sharkey.

Opponents of the bill also say it requires physicians to lie on the death certificate by listing the underlying illness and ignoring that the death was a “suicide,” Wolfgang said.

Tim Appleton, Connecticut campaign manager for Compassion & Choices, said proponents of the measure have listened to the opposition and believe they have increased the number of safeguards in the bill.

He said support for aid-in-dying legislation is increasing and they feel good about passage of the legislation this year.

In the last two years, the bill died in the Public Health Committee. This year the debate will begin in the Judiciary Committee. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

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Comments

(6) Archived Comments

posted by: MyOpinion | March 17, 2015  6:48am

I support “Death with Dignity”.  We put down our pets to relieve them of their pain, why can not a human being make that decision for themselves?

posted by: art vandelay | March 17, 2015  8:25am

art vandelay

Have times changed.  Years ago Dr. Kevorkian served time, and now we are embracing his ideas.  I support this. Nobody should suffer unbearable pain or a debilitating disease with no cure.

posted by: OutOfOutrage | March 17, 2015  9:55am

OutOfOutrage

The very fact that these people think they are debating what I can do with my life is the problem. The idea that a their opinions or laws are going to come between me and my maker when I’ve decided its my time is laughable. And with respect to Ms. Karner, there is nothing more personal or individual than this and looking at it through the eyes of the regulatory mechanism is a continuation of the same misconception that the state has a role here other than to ensure that no one is manipulated or murdered.  Better to start with the idea that people are free to determine their own fate and ask what the state can do to help protect those who might be vulnerable.

posted by: JamesBronsdon | March 17, 2015  10:10am

I do not support the Assisted Suicide legislation.  The medical profession and the state should not be involved in these matters. Both should be in the business of supporting life and the dignity of all persons, whatever their physical circumstances. The medical profession’s reputation will suffer by its connection to this. To the extent there is yet left any trust in government it will be diminished.  (I see that the Conn Bar Assn was involved in drafting the legislation. As a practicing attorney, I am proud to say I am not a member of the bar association. Shame on them.) The legislature has many opportunities to improve palliative care options. If the bill becomes law, it will be a very swift descent to the expectation that you will take your own life because you’ve become a burden to your family, society and the taxpayer. We are not cats and dogs. We are created in the image of God. The analogy is misguided. I don’t discount the suffering of the terminally ill. I recognize I can’t fully comprehend it because I am not in that situation and thankfully have no family members in that situation. But much can be done to ease their suffering, and we bring grace upon ourselves when we do so.

posted by: Mountain Man | March 17, 2015  5:44pm

James, should you ever have the great misfortune to have such personal experience, you will understand that among other things, this proposal, if enacted, would help preserve their dignity.  Though I’d rather you maintain your innocence and your position than to EVER have to witness such a thing.

posted by: Leslie Wolfgang | March 20, 2015  7:54am

Mountain Man - CT hospice associations, the Connecticut Medical Society and American Cancer Society all OPPOSE assisted suicide as a treatment for end of life pain.  Surely they have more combined experience with people at the end of life than anyone in this thread.  I hope our legislators will continue to respect their wisdom on this issue.  Additionally, the sad fact is that this law is not used to address the fear of end of life pain in OR (23.7%).  It is used to avoid becoming burden (91.4%) ow.ly/KvkIS

That is not a good enough reason to license one group of people in this state to facilitate suicide.  We don’t allow that for any group of people and the lessons from our medical malpractice industry should demonstrate that you can’t legislate around ignorance, abuse, maltreatment, fraud or worse.  Doctors are not perfect or more altruistic than the rest of society.  Our state would be better served by greater access to modern palliative and hospice care, improved funding for home health care aides and mandatory training for doctors on pain management techniques.