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Speaker Throws Support Behind Aid-In-Dying Bill

by | Jan 23, 2015 2:24pm
() Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Health Care, Legal, Nonprofits, Poll

Hugh McQuaid file photo

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey had a controversial bill permitting doctors help terminally ill patients end their lives referred to the Judiciary Committee this week rather than the Public Health Committee where it has stalled in previous sessions.

“In the past, the public health committee showed reluctance to take up the issue, in part knowing it would have to also go before the much larger judiciary committee, so the Speaker wanted to remove that factor from the process,” Sharkey’s spokesman, Larry Perosino, said Friday.

The traditional legislative process would still require the Public Health Committee to sign off on the bill at some point before it could be raised for floor votes.

So far, the bill only has concept language seeking to allow “that, with appropriate protections, at the request of a terminally ill patient who is mentally competent, a physician may prescribe a medication that such patient can self-ingest when and if such patient chooses to avoid prolonged suffering and bring about his or her own peaceful death.”

Sharkey has been a supporter of the legislation, which has been a hot-button issue at the state Capitol for the past two legislative sessions. The Public Health Committee held widely-attended hearings on the issue during both years. The hearings drew emotional testimony from residents both for and against the proposal, but supporters have lacked the votes to pass the bill out of the committee.

This year, the bill will start in Judiciary, a much larger panel with a later bill passage deadline. Sixteen Democrats co-sponsored the bill, which was referred to the committee Friday. They include Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, the committee’s co-chairman.

“We have learned a lot about the need for compassionate end-of-life choice, the support for it in the community and how such legislation can be safely implemented here,” Coleman said in a press release. “I expect to build on the support we already have, in the coming months.”

The bill has long been anticipated by advocates on the both sides of the issue. Both have held events outside the Capitol in an effort to build support for their position.

People with disabilities and their advocates have been among the policy’s most outspoken critics. Many testified against the bill during hearings in the Public Health Committee, voicing concerns over a “slippery slope,” which they fear may see doctors writing lethal prescriptions for conditions like long-term disabilities.

In an email, Stephen Mendelsohn, a member of an opposition group called Second Thoughts Connecticut, said the group is already organizing against the legislation. He expressed concerns the Judiciary Committee would hold a public hearing on the bill before drafting specific policy language.

“As support for legalization of assisted suicide drops dramatically once specific legislation is released to the public, proponents may be attempting an end run around having to have the dangerous details criticized by opponents. We believe that this would deprive both the public and members of the General Assembly of sound debate,” Mendelsohn said.

Besides Sharkey and Coleman, the proposal has some influential members of the legislature supporting it. Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, and Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, the co-chairwomen of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee are both among the co-sponsors of the legislation.

Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organization that counsels people on ways they can control when and how they die if they wish, held a forum in October to discuss legislation and what’s been done in other states. Second Thoughts Connecticut participated in a conference in November aimed at building opposition to this year’s legislation.

Currently five U.S. states — Oregon, Washington, Montana, New Mexico, and Vermont — have have legalized aid-in-dying, according to Compassion & Choices. Oregon and Washington state passed it through ballot initiatives, while Montana and New Mexico legalized it through separate court cases. Vermont passed it through the legislative process.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted last year, 61 percent of Connecticut voters support the concept of allowing doctors to legally prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their own lives.

However, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has expressed “worries” about the legislation. He answered questions about the policy earlier this month when he appointed Elizabeth Ritter, a former legislator who championed the proposal in prior years, as the state commissioner of aging.

“I have a slightly different view—although not as different as some people would paint it either. Both of my parents passed away as a result of very long and difficult illnesses,” Malloy told reporters. “I think they both a significant played significant decision-making roles in the treatment they would receive and how long they would receive it. I’m in favor of legislation that allows people to play that role.”

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(6) Archived Comments

posted by: Leslie Wolfgang | January 23, 2015  3:26pm

You cover the “forum” by Compassion & Choices and not the East Coast Conference Against Assisted Suicide co-sponsored by Second Thoughts Connecticut which garnered over 140 participants from across the region and speakers from all over the United States and the world.  It was held in November, 2014 in Windsor Locks.  Newsjunkie has an article about it.

Additionally, it is only legal in theory in New Mexico, per a lower level court ruling.  It is being appealed by their Attorney General.

Please note the Q poll questions about assisted suicide (words it didn’t use in its poll) were 2 or 3 questions at the end of a 50 question poll on issues ranging from gun control to Chris Murphy.  The latest poll, the only poll of CT residents dedicated solely to this issue, concludes that most residents oppose licensing physicians to prescribe deadly drugs. http://blog.ctnews.com/connecticutpostings/2014/03/13/poll-state-residents-oppose-assisted-suicide/

posted by: art vandelay | January 23, 2015  10:15pm

art vandelay

It’s interesting to note that a pioneer right to die activist Dr. Kevorkian served 8 years in prison for his beliefs.
Now we are coming around to his beliefs.

posted by: art vandelay | January 23, 2015  10:16pm

art vandelay

What comes around goes around.

posted by: dano860 | January 24, 2015  8:42am

Since having my parents go through unknowing and painful ends of life I could support a ‘death with dignity or compassion’ piece of legislation.
I’m certain that it will take time to craft and no matter how well they do that there will still be potential for abuse. This is one that means testing will have a tough time with.
Everyone that has this in mind as a possible choice needs to consider it long before they are at that crucial stage and their thoughts are possibly clouded. As in a DNR this takes forethought and commitment from the loved ones as well as the individual.
Pain and suffering, living in a drug induced stupor waiting for the end is not any quality of life. They should have had the ability or opportunity to have been able to consider that EOL choice.

posted by: shinningstars122 | January 24, 2015  11:01am

shinningstars122

I think one thing to consider is that in many ways our medical system prolongs death, and at enormous emotional and financial expense to their families.

In many cases tax payers will also help pay of this care for years and years.

This is a profit driven model folks.

One way to consider this kind of legislation is that it is really about quality of life for the individual.

The US Constitution guarantees the right to pursue one’s own happiness and liberty. The 10th Amendment, unless outlawed by the Federal government, allows states to enact laws such as these.

We are a secular nation so the positions many religious people may take should be noted and be part of the debate, but ultimately these opinions should not be the final determining factor if one chooses to end their life in a medically safe and legal manner.

It is a complicated legal and moral issue and needs serious review and discussion.

The harsh fact, and most tragically,  for millions of Americans debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s will effect their lives in ways many of us can not comprehend.

Should one be able to have the legal rights to not endure that type of suffering if they are of right and sound mind when they make that decision?

posted by: SocialButterfly | January 24, 2015  8:47pm

@shinningstars122: You say our medical system prolong’s death when in reality their true function is to extend life.  How many people do you know that go to a medical facility to promote death?