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OP-ED | ‘Second Thoughts’ for Politicians on Assisted Suicide?

by | Nov 28, 2014 6:39am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Civil Liberties, Health Care, Opinion, Health Care Opinion

Few thorny topics arouse the passions of the masses like death. The finality of the act of dying, who causes the death and under what circumstances cause us to sit up and pay attention even as other controversial issues provoke a yawn.

From capital punishment to abortion, Americans reserve a special place in public discourse for matters of life and death. Yet even by those standards, physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is in a league of its own. And unlike the two aforementioned life-and-death issues, PAS doesn’t break down neatly along party and philosophical lines.

We won’t be in a position to know whether Connecticut will join five other states in legalizing it until the new legislative session begins after the new year, but it seems likely that a bill will be debated. Last year’s legislation died — so to speak — in the Committee on Public Health. A legislative public hearing on the same subject two sessions ago resulted in the same fate: it went nowhere.

What we do know is that the Family Institute of Connecticut is girding itself for a battle against any PAS legislation. Last week the institute co-sponsored a two-day event in Windsor Locks called East Coast Against Assisted Suicide. That event reportedly attracted 140 attendees from around the country and about a dozen expert presenters.

As readers of this column know, I’ve always been fascinated by issues that cut across ideological lines. By a margin of 61 to 32 percent, a Quinnipiac poll conducted earlier this year found strong support in Connecticut for PAS.

At a ratio of nearly 2-1, support among the 1,878 registered Connecticut voters who answered the Q-poll was overwhelming. Support among men was about the same as it was generally, but it slipped to 58-33 among women and a bare 51-percent majority among Republicans.

However, when Quinnipiac pollsters asked respondents, if they were terminally ill with less than six months to live, whether they would avail themselves of the services of a suicide doctor, support dropped by approximately half among all groups.

This suggests a certain softness among those who say they support PAS. Many supporters like the idea of assisted suicide until confronted with the reality that they themselves might use it. Opponents, on the other hand, are pretty passionate about the subject — as passionate as pro-lifers are about abortion.

To wit, the Family Institute of Connecticut lumps both euthanasia and abortion together as one topic on the institute’s website, stating simply that the FIC “believes in the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until natural death.”

A disabilities rights group called Second Thoughts Massachusetts says it played a key role in narrowly defeating a 2012 ballot initiative that would have legalized assisted suicide in the Bay State. A Second Thoughts Connecticut group also exists, but there is very little information about it online.

Typically, disabilities rights groups align themselves with progressives because they believe those on the left will advocate more aggressively for the cause of the disabled. In the case of PAS, however, Second Thoughts found itself at odds with the progressives in communities such as Martha’s Vineyard and Northampton, while the blue-collar communities and mid-sized cities, almost all of which are controlled by Democrats, nonetheless voted against the initiative.

Second Thoughts opposes PAS on the grounds that in a profit-driven healthcare system, “pressure to cut costs . . . can lead patients, families and doctors to choose the cheapest alternative, even if that is assisted suicide.” That sentiment was echoed recently by Stephen Mendelsohn, a member of Second Thoughts Connecticut, in a letter to the Norwich Bulletin in response to an earlier editorial.

The knotty problem faced by legislators for whom political survival is paramount is the tricky political calculus involved. In Massachusetts, lawmakers were able to wash their hands of the matter by letting the people decide in a popular referendum. Since ballot initiatives are almost impossible to arrange in Connecticut, lawmakers here will have to exhibit extraordinary courage — a quality in short supply in Hartford.

Unless uncommon valor breaks out at the Capitol, PAS advocates just might have to wait awhile longer.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(9) Archived Comments

posted by: Tessa Marquis | November 28, 2014  1:36pm

A matter of Choice.

As always, those who say they are “for” something are often not ready to fight for it.

Until it happens to them, or someone close to them, there is a tendency to wait it out on the sidelines.

I think those who assist should be free from legal entanglements and those who choose to select the time they will pass should be granted the respect of allowing their wishes to be followed.


posted by: Noteworthy | November 28, 2014  7:56pm

Valor? You would have to pass out flash cards for anybody under the dome to know what that means. In the meantime, Second Thoughts and others who find our freedoms so distasteful, profit driven healthcare is a straw man, a fake excuse - health companies are not going to suggest this option. It’s really intellectually dishonest to purport such too.

posted by: jenand | November 30, 2014  6:45pm

Assisted suicide is a distasteful term, but Hospice end of Life Care is universally accepted , medically and culturally. The concepts are not dissimilar, and in my extensive experience, Insurances (Managed Care (HMO’s) approve Hospice Care with ease, even at a very high cost per day. The point being, insurances like to hear “Hospice” , knowing that the cost will be finite very soon - And, Hospice is truly beautiful in concept and provision. Families benefit greatly from the holistic practice, and the patient has their Spiritual, emotioinal,, and pain control needs met. The difference is that Hosopice doesn’t use the drug Seconal, and they don’t schedule the patient’last day.

posted by: LongJohn47 | November 30, 2014  11:57pm

It’s easy to bash the legislature and say that courage is in “short supply”, but the facts speak otherwise. 

Of course, not every bill that’s passed (or defeated) is a marker for political courage, but in recent history the legislature has eliminated the death penalty and stood up for the right of rape victims to have access to Plan B at all hospitals, both in the teeth of significant resistance from the Family Institute and friends.

On the political front, the creation of a public financing system for elections, which gives equal money to challengers as well as incumbents, was clearly not in the perceived interests of the latter, but they voted in favor of it anyway.

And passing medical marijuana was certainly a courageous vote.  As was refusing to act when the courts approved gay marriage, and “traditionalists” were howling.  Or passing a bipartisan gun control bill in the face of NRA wrath (just ask John McKinney).

Again, I’m not saying that everything they do in Hartford would make it into the next edition of “Profiles in Courage”, but to imply that they are spineless is just a cheap shot.

posted by: LongJohn47 | December 1, 2014  9:22am

Let me add a few more:
- paid sick days
- earned income tax credit
- $10.10 minimum wage
all passed over strong opposition from business interests.  none of those votes were easy.  and there are many who feel that standing up for poor people requires “uncommon valor”.

unlike taking cheap shots.

posted by: Noteworthy | December 1, 2014  11:38am

LJ47 - You need to raise the bar on what constitutes valor and courage. Just about every issue you raise have been wet dreams of the far left for years, if not decades. Hard votes? Please. Campaign financing is a curious topic for “courage” since this same group of people also voted to water down our campaign reforms allowing loopholes and work arounds so large, even a ninny with a third grade education could figure out how to sidestep the rules. Hence, millions in special interest money was shoveled through the “federal” account of the state party to Malloy - and $200K was passed through to Kennedy. While it appears it was legal because of the loopholes, they certainly violated the spirit and intent of our laws.

posted by: LongJohn47 | December 1, 2014  1:24pm

Noteworthy—agree that campaign finance was watered down and that the Dems exploited loopholes in this last election.  this should be fixed.

However, you focused your comments on the governor’s race, and the state senate race of Ted Kennedy.  I’m looking at the other thirty-five state senate races and the hundreds of candidates for the house, plus the lesser-known “constitutional officers” like State Treasurer and Comptroller.  In these, the Citizens Election Program (to give it its formal name) has been revolutionary.

The original vote in 2005 setting up the system was, in fact, very courageous.  Everyone knows that incumbents have a distinct advantage when it comes to raising campaign cash, and that spending differentials in low profile campaigns are often the key factor in winning and losing.  this advantage was given up by that legislature, making each of them an easier target for defeat in future elections.

A case in point—in 2010 all of the Republican state-wide candidates refused public financing.  Foley, of course, spent his own money ($12M vs. Malloy’s $6M) and almost won.  The other GOP candidates, however, were outspent and lost badly.

Fast forward to 2014, when Republicans took public financing (I think it was universal).  Foley spent the same as Malloy (and yes, outside spending was roughly equal), and lost by a larger margin.  Other GOP candidates, using public money for the first time, did much better than 2010, particularly the State Treasurer and Secretary of State candidates.

Another thing to think about—when campaign finance was passed, the GOP had a handful of state house members.  Since then they’ve increased their seats by 50%. 

So I think the evidence is conclusive—an even financial playing field for low profile races makes these races more competitive.  Can anyone doubt that the vote to establish the program in 2005 was courageous on the part of Democratic lawmakers?

posted by: ASTANVET | December 1, 2014  3:35pm

Valor: boldness or determination in facing great danger, especially in battle; heroic courage; bravery.  I don’t think that passing a bill to allow people to kill themselves would be particularly valorous.  Quite the contrary.  Further if the point is that they pass/don’t pass something because they are saving their political skin - that is another term, and I wouldn’t use VALOR to describe it.  Longjohn - it does not take Valor or bravery to mandate higher minimum wages - particularly here in CT where the capital D is full effect.  It does not take Valor to use the force of government to take from its citizens - for all this talk of bravery and valor (of which i have seen much of in my life) It appears that much of CT misses the point of what is worth sticking up for - you claim it’s for the terminally ill patient in this case, the down trodden worker in another - but in reality, you are serving your own guilt, your own ideas at the expense of someone else’s work.  We value life so little, almost as little as we value personal property, individual liberty and freedom.  We have become a culture obsessed with death.  From War (which i have seen a lot), abortion, suicide, movies, music, video games - where are we going?? it is troubling.  Going along with the mob to follow them into amoral behavior is not courageous, it is not valorous, and it is not brave.  I think someone who is brave in CT would be against these things and risk the ridicule of the so very enlightened academics here in the State.

posted by: Leslie Wolfgang | December 5, 2014  9:42pm

For the record, in the latest poll of CT residents, using a survey dedicated to the topic (not 3 questions at the end of a 50 question survey) with natural language and did not use terms such as “assisted suicide” or “aid in dying” - a majority of CT residents oppose licensing doctors to prescribe death inducing drugs. 

With regard to “health companies are not going to suggest this option” - the concern is more that subtle pressures will be brought to bear on the vulnerable.  We don’t live in a vacuum and are susceptible to caregiver fatigue, financial pressures and moments of suicide fantasies when we are at our lowest, such as when diagnosed with a long illness.
And then there are the times when the health company HAS suggested assisted suicide when your treatment is not covered, as in the case of Barbara Wagner.

Our culture has a devotion to beauty and youth . . what will happen when assisted suicide becomes the balm for whatever “choice” we decide? It happens in other places . . .  We should not cross this threshold in our country.

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