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Right-To-Die Or Assisted Suicide?

by | Mar 20, 2013 12:24pm
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Posted to: Health Care, Legal

Christine Stuart photo

Cathy Ludlum, Peter Wolfgang, Sen Joseph Markley, Rep. Vincent Candelora, Sen. Jason Welch

This is the first year the “right-to-die” or “assisted suicide” bill, depending on your perspective, has received a public hearing in the Connecticut legislature. Opponents and supporters alike lined up to offer their opinions and emotions at a public hearing Wednesday.

Disability advocates expressed concern that legislation allowing a terminally ill patient to take a lethal dose of medication to end their own life would be used by the government as a way to take the lives of elderly and disabled individuals, who require large amounts of health care.

“Some of us have terminal moments that we live through, and then we go on,” Cathy Ludlum, a disability rights advocate, said Wednesday at a press conference prior to the hearing on the legislation.

Ludlum, a law professor, a hospice nurse, a state commissioner, and a nursing home administrator each said they believe the legislation being heard by the Public Health Committee opens the door to assisted suicide for those who get their health care through government systems like Medicaid and Medicare.

“Will the incentive be instead of hospitalization, instead of treatment . . . we will pay for assisted suicide?” Teresa Wells, an administrator from the Mary Wade Home in New Haven, said.

Right-to-die advocates say that’s absolutely not the case.

Dr. Gary Blick, who brought a lawsuit against the state in 2009 seeking clarification regarding a 1969 law that he believed was vague about whether it’s proper for a physician to help a terminally ill patient end their life, said there seems to be some misunderstanding about what is or isn’t in the legislation.

Pointing to his 91-year-old mother, Blick said that if she had a stroke and was disabled this legislation does not allow him to obtain a prescription from her doctor and to shove pills down her throat to end her life. 

“That’s murder,” Blick said. “That deserves jail.”

Connecticut’s legislation is fashioned after the Oregon and Washington laws, which allow a terminally ill person with a diagnosis of less than six months to live, who is deemed mentally and psychologically competent, to get a prescription that can be self-administered for a humane and dignified death.

Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, said the law in Oregon has been on the books in that state for 15 years. Since then, only 64 percent — or 673 of the prescriptions written — have been taken by patients.

“All we want is the choice for people to talk about it with their healthcare providers,” Blick said. “This gives people another option.”

He said it’s not right for most people but there is going to be a select few who would like to have it as an option.

One of those people is Sara Myers.

Myers, 58, who suffers from ALS, said she was diagnosed more than two years ago and faces total paralysis as her nervous system disease progresses.

“I am here to support this bill because I think I want the choice whether I use it or not,” Myers said.

She said that if she makes the choice, she wants it done humanely and she wants to be surrounded by loved ones. She said she’s not ready to make the choice today, but having the legal option to do it would “give me great comfort today.”

“It would help me sleep a whole lot better,” she added.

William Meyer, who was arrested in 1994 for taking his 88-year-old father’s life, said there are many safeguards in the legislation to make sure that the choice is being made by the patient. He said his father’s doctor of 25 years and his minister agreed that he was making the right decision when he slipped the plastic bag over his father’s head and held his hands as he ended his life.

Meyer was arrested for second-degree manslaughter only after he told his story to Connecticut Magazine, the New York Times, and 60 Minutes. He was given accelerated rehabilitation. Meyer’s father suffered from cancer.

But right-to-die advocates were not fazed by the number of questions lawmakers had about the bill since this is the first time it has received a public hearing.

Blick said patients with Alzheimer’s or other mental impairments would not qualify under this legislation because they would not be mentally competent to make the decision to take their own life.

“Your guardian can not make this decision for you. If you have Alzheimer’s it’s unfortunate, we really can’t do much for Alzheimer’s either, but this bill does not pertain to that terminal illness,” Blick said.

The legislation requires consultation with two physicians and one of those two could refer a patient to a mental health professional if they thought the person was not competent to make the decision.

Stephen Mikochik, a emeritus professor at Temple Law School, said that 95 percent of people who choose to end their own lives are clinically depressed. He said if they get treatment for their depression it’s likely they won’t feel like taking their own lives.

But Blick, who deals with end-of-life care, argues that clinical depression does not mean someone does not have the mental competence necessary to make their own decisions.

Ritter said the early onset of a disease does not render someone terminal and therefore wouldn’t apply to this legislation. She said the person has to be given six months to live and the patient must take the lethal dosage voluntarily. She said it’s not “assisted suicide” because there is no one administering the medication to them.

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(10) Archived Comments

posted by: anuddaCTresident | March 20, 2013  2:22pm

I cant imagine having to face the choice to take a lethal dose.  I hope that, if the time comes for me, I will be allowed to make my own decision whether or not to do so.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | March 20, 2013  2:31pm

“All we want is the choice for people to talk about it with their healthcare providers,” Blick said. “This gives people another option.”

How many of you Remeber Karen Ann Quinlan and Terri Schiavo.Both were in a persistent vegetative state.Look at the money the hosptial made off of them.Give me a break.A person should have the right to die on there   if they wish.Even go to a hopice or nursing home and see people just laying in there beds.

posted by: Count Pete | March 20, 2013  3:01pm

Don’t forget the great Claude Holcomb in your top picture!

posted by: Noteworthy | March 20, 2013  4:18pm

It is remarkable that disability advocates can be so uninformed about how this bill and others before it in other state is implemented. In no case, is it the right of the government or anybody but the individual who is terminally ill, to decide when the right time is to die. These emotional arguments to void my freedom of choice are very disturbing, factually incorrect, and intentionally misleading. The State of Connecticut and all these political honchos sit in Hartford six months a year, and nearly all of that time is spent on taking away things - money through taxes, surcharges and fees; various other freedoms from gun control to nutrition and educational choices. For once, can these people bring it on themselves to get out of my way, off my back so that if I’m dying, I don’t have to do so in pain, suffering or for a prolonged period of time be a burden on my family emotionally and financially. It is my choice and its been done successfully elsewhere. Don’t create the wheel - follow the real leaders in this country. You all want to follow the high taxers - follow the freedom of choice people.

posted by: JamesBronsdon | March 20, 2013  7:02pm

It will be all to easy to slide from a so-called compassionate choice to a cultural orthodoxy that our eldest and weakest citizens will internalize: that being, you’re a burden to us, you should go. If enacted, there will be a constant, perhaps unstated, pressure on these poor people that they should die.  The message from this legislation, sadly, is that our culture does not value life.

posted by: cfm8701 | March 21, 2013  2:34am

Nothing should supercede a patient’s wishes and decisions about how to end their life. There should be no role for goverment or any religious prejudices in telling an individual how they should end their life. The value of a human life is not determined by any government or religion, but rather by the individual who is living it

posted by: OutOfOutrage | March 21, 2013  9:16am

OutOfOutrage

Noteworthy, I couldn’t agree more.  There is nothing more personal. And it is so far beyond the business of the fools in Hartford who can’t accomplish the most basic tasks that it’s laughable.

posted by: enness in Hartford | March 22, 2013  1:55pm

Who’s uninformed?  And ‘intentionally misleading,’ really?  If you’re going to have the chutzpah to make a claim like that, you’d better be prepared to prove it, buddy.  Check out Ed Meyers’s (not to be confused with Bill Meyer) testimony on his own bill—he doesn’t even know what drugs are used, but he swears they’re 100% effective!  It’s spectacularly uninformed for the article to say that this bill has a two-doctor requirement, when what it actually says—if you READ the bill—is that the first doctor can do away with the second consult if (s)he thinks it’s not necessary.  That is so huge a loophole that it renders any greater requirement a ridiculous formality.
A term keeps popping into my head when I read some of the comments attempting to discredit the disability advocates: gaslighting.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting I know it’s not exactly the same as what’s happening here, but I intensely dislike that these intelligent folks are being treated like scared little children who need their blankies.  Sorry if I get a bit heated, but that pisses me off.  These are smart and informed people, and the mantra from certain members of the opposition seems to be “deny, deny, deny” even when presented with evidence to contradict them.

posted by: enness in Hartford | March 22, 2013  2:07pm

Now let me dismantle Blick’s testimony.

“Blick said that if she had a stroke and was disabled this legislation does not allow him to obtain a prescription from her doctor and to shove pills down her throat to end her life.”

It would if she, having at any time been given a ‘terminal’ diagnosis, ever made such a request and had forgotten or changed her mind.  There’s no witness required at the time of ingestion or death, and while the bill says “A qualified patient may rescind his or her request at any time and in any manner,” it sets up no process for doing this that could be independently confirmed.  It says that “any person who conceals or destroys a recission…is guilty of murder” but if it was made verbally, how on earth would anyone know?  There’s no real accountability. 

“But Blick, who deals with end-of-life care, argues that clinical depression does not mean someone does not have the mental competence necessary to make their own decisions.”

I was treated for depression several years ago (and I’m always aware of how easily I could slide back to that place).  Oh, I was competent, all right—I was just falling apart on the inside.  Being a private person and being prideful in my own willpower, I successfully hid it from everyone for a couple months.  If I hadn’t *allowed* that veil to slip, because I was educated enough about depression to realize I had it and ultimately wanted help, nobody would have known.  Not my parents, not my friends, not my teachers, not my doctor.  A tiny minority of patients who request assisted suicide in Oregon ever get a psychiatric referral.  The annual reports are online and I have read every single one of them, fifteen or so.

posted by: ravenswolf | March 24, 2013  12:55pm

I like the idea of terminally ill people being able to make the choice to end their life as they choose. I would however like to say that as someone who suffers from severe chronic pain i would want the choice to die as i choose. i am not ready to die right now, i have small kids that need me. however when they are grown i dont know how much longer i can deal with this pain. it gets worse every year and i can hardly imagine how much worse it will be in 15 more years. i am at the point where pain meds hardly help anymore. I am not terminally ill but i still feel i have the right to decide i.dont want to live with rhe pain anymore if i dont want to. it will never get better and it will never end. ive been to many drs and none can help me. so i feel it should be my choice.