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Aid-In-Dying Portrait Display Disappears

by | Feb 8, 2014 11:43am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Health Care, State Capitol

Hugh McQuaid file photo Portraits of “aid-in-dying” supporters that covered the walls of the underground tunnel between the Legislative Office Building and the state Capitol were abruptly taken down Friday night.

The photos were scheduled to will be displayed in the concourse until Feb. 14 and were part of this year’s push for legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives.

It’s unclear exactly why the photos were removed. Phone calls to Legislative Management, which manages the building, went unanswered Friday evening.

“We heard from many people in the Capitol that they really liked the display on the opening day of session,” Tim Appleton, state director of Compassion and Choices Connecticut, said Friday. “We did everything right in submitting for this. We are hoping to find a new home for it.”

Hugh McQuaid file photo The photos included quotes from supporters of the cause.

“I am concerned that the voices of our supporters are being silenced in a place meant to enhance public debate,” Appleton said. “Why aren’t these citizens allowed to be heard through this portrait display? We hope legislators will take the time to hear from the people in these portraits in an upcoming hearing.”

Last year was the first time a public hearing was held on legislation that would make it legal for terminally ill patients to take their own lives.

The hearing was widely attended and drew testimony from residents both for and against the law. Ultimately the bill was never passed out of the Public Health Committee.

The issue is a difficult one for lawmakers.

“For a lot of people death is a very difficult subject,” Rep. Phil Miller, D-Ivoryton, said in January when the group announced its display. “But I hope as we begin an objective discussion about this, we can view death as part of the life experience.”

Christine Stuart photo The proposal has drawn criticism from a wide variety of organizations ranging from the Connecticut State Medical Society to the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference. Disability advocates also fought last year’s legislation.

“This legislation represents a slippery slope for those who can’t advocate well for themselves,” Sen. John Kissel said in January. “I am worried that this law, if passed, would open the door for undue influence of the elderly and disabled by allowing those around them to influence their decision to commit suicide for their own gain.”

But supporters of the law don’t believe it’s a slippery slope. They believe it’s necessary so that no one ends up in prison for assisting a person who wants to end their life.

One of the men in the photo display was Huntington Williams of West Cornwall.

In 2004, Williams was charged with manslaughter for supporting his friend, John Welles, in ending his life.

Welles was living alone and dying from advanced prostate cancer. Williams said his friend made it known that he wanted to end his life. So one day Williams made sure the .38 caliber revolver was operable and handed it back to Welles.

“John loaded the gun and walked, with the aid of a walker, out into his garden. He lay down and I suggested where to aim the gun,” Williams said back in 2009. “I walked 100 yards up the driveway and called out ‘God Bless . . .’ but before I got to the ‘you’ out I heard the gun fire.”

He then went back to determine if Welles had been successful and called 911. Six months later he was charged with manslaughter. He was later convicted on the charge, but was given accelerated rehabilitation instead of prison time.

“It’s time for the courts to make it clear that John Welles deserved better, that I deserved better, and that terminal patients and their families in our great state of Connecticut deserve better,” Williams has said.

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(9) Archived Comments

posted by: Stephen Mendelsohn | February 9, 2014  2:23am

This is the first time I recall ever seeing a display on a current polarizing political issue in the Capitol concourse.  When this display first went up, I saw many pictures of Connecticut’s Main Streets on the other side of the people mover, which is typical of what one sees along the concourse walls.  Sometimes there have been staffed public service displays in the lower concourse, but never anything as politically controversial as this.

If one side of a deeply controversial issue gets to put up a display like this—which, in my opinion, reduced a multifaceted issue to simplistic six-word soundbites—then the other side will be perfectly justified in demanding equal time.  One can only suspect that Legislative Management may have felt that Compassion and Choices’ display set a problematic precedent politicizing this area, and that some boundaries needed to be set for the future.

posted by: Lawrence | February 9, 2014  2:58pm

Yes, Stephen, you are and have been vocally opposed to the legislation.

Then why not put up your own display to counter free speech with MORE free speech, and let residents decide for themselves?

posted by: Stephen Mendelsohn | February 9, 2014  11:06pm


We at Second Thoughts Connecticut are evaluating our options, including what you suggest—even if we do not have wealthy mega-donors like Compassion and Choices does to fund our efforts. Certainly, everyone has a First Amendment right to express their opinions in the public square.  We have never asked Legislative Management to remove the C&C portrait display.  I am merely speculating that this display may have been removed because it is out of the normal character for the concourse.  Perhaps we will find out more in the coming days as to why the display was removed.

While I fully defend the First Amendment rights of assisted suicide supporters, I do question the ethical propriety of the message on these photos.  Compassion and Choices is hawking suicide (while euphemizing it as “aid-in-dying”) with simplistic six-word soundbites in a place that is visited by children and teenagers on school tours.  Some of these young people might be autistic (and take these messages very literally), or LGBT, or for some other reason at risk of being mercilessly bullied.  How will these victims of bullying react when they see simplistic messages like “My Life. My Death. My Choice.” promoting suicide as the way out of suffering?  There is a serious issue of suicide contagion here and suicide prevention groups ought to be outraged at this display.

When Final Exit Network put up billboards back in 2010 saying “My Life. My Death. My Choice.” promoting their brand of suicide assistance, it got some controversy, e.g.: https://www.baycitizen.org/news/health/suicide-prevention-experts-decry/  This C&C display with the exact same message is no different.  And people who are old, ill, or have disabilities are entitled to equal access to non-coercive suicide prevention services.

posted by: enness | February 10, 2014  12:32am

Lawrence: who says that very idea hasn’t been discussed?  But it certainly would help to have bottomless pockets on which to draw—http://washingtonexaminer.com/op-ed-selling-suicide-with-george-soros-money/article/2526283

I don’t know who is responsible for getting the display removed.  We all know very well, though, that freedom and appropriateness are two different things.  A person still doesn’t have the right to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater…and arguably that goes for whispering suicide to schoolchildren in the Concourse, too.

posted by: Noteworthy | February 10, 2014  5:34am

To the extent this issue is polarizing, it is because of the misrepresentation and misinformation and scare tactics by people like Mendelsohn. It was a nice display and it should not have been removed. It is also worth noting, that it is always “unclear” how these things happen - rats in the enabling legislation; secret legislation, lines inserted into bills - whoever made the decision should man up and explain.

posted by: enness | February 10, 2014  9:42am

Mendelsohn’s misinformation and scare tactics?  Are you kidding me?  Look at the story above.  I remind everyone that prostate cancer is one of the most treatable and slow-progressing of all cancers. The ten-year survival rate is 98%.  Tim Appleton also regularly claims there has been no abuse of the law in Oregon, a shockingly transparent falsehood easily disproven.

posted by: Leslie Wolfgang | February 10, 2014  9:46am

It was a “nice display” of out-of-state wealth being used to gin-up a movement where there wasn’t one in CT.  “This is todays issue” intones the latest ads by C&C - YOU WILL COMPLY CT.  Maybe the pictures were removed because though handsome, they came off as a showy display of activists, their friends, and their relatives.  Assisted suicide is not the cure for what ails our health care system.  Your “help” is another person’s way to “hurt”.  Sara Meyers has the drugs she wants to end her life.  Now she comes to her other home state to change laws so guests at her suicide will have immunity.  What price will CT’s most vulnerable have to pay longterm for that privilege?

posted by: Leslie Wolfgang | February 10, 2014  11:20am

Let’s also consider the case of Mr. Huntington Williams from the tony town of West Cornwall.  Was he studied in the signs of depression?  What right did he have to give a loaded gun to a man who may have been depressed.  Either way, Mr Williams is not, obviously, rotting away in some prison because of what he did.  Our current system of laws is yielding and he did not get any prison time.  Licensing hospice and palliative care centers, providing legal protections for vulnerable people that also promote judicial discretion and mercy has been serving our state.  We can do better with increased stays for hospice and palliative care, which is actually a less expensive treatment option.

posted by: Stephen Mendelsohn | February 10, 2014  3:26pm

We are hearing indirectly that Legislative Management received complaints (NOT from us at Second Thoughts Connecticut) that the Compassion and Choices display constituted “lobbying” and was therefore inappropriate for the concourse.  This confirms my initial theory as to why it was removed.

If this be the case, as much as we at Second Thoughts Connecticut may have a moral right to equal time to get our viewpoint across to legislators, we plan to take the high road and respect the rules at the Capitol.

I was at LOB around noon, and I saw a woman in the concourse hand out brochures for Shen Yun 2014 (a Chinese festival), along with other noncontroversial pictures and posters.  Nothing that could be constituted as “lobbying.”

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