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Slippery Slope Or Personal Choice? Passion Bubbles To Surface During Assisted Suicide Hearing

by | Mar 17, 2014 4:53pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Health Care, Legal

Hugh McQuaid Photo The state has no compelling interest in preventing terminally ill patients from choosing to end their lives, Attorney General George Jepsen told a legislative committee during a hearing Monday.

Jepsen was one of hundreds of people to offer testimony on legislation that would allow a doctor to prescribe lethal medication to a dying patient. This is the second consecutive year the the Public Health Committee has held hearings on such a bill, but Jepsen sponsored similar legislation 20 years ago when he served in the state Senate.

The policy, which has been approved in three other states, is controversial and opponents are concerned that if it passes, terminally ill people may be coerced into suicide. Jepsen said constituents have told him that dying patients already are taking their own lives.

“This happens all the time but it happens in the dark and all the issues that you raise pursuant to coercion are swept under the rug. It would be much better and far more sensitive to bring it to the spotlight where there is an orderly process,” he said.

Some argue that the bill would set a dangerous precedent by sanctioning suicide for some people. Last week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he was undecided about the proposal but told reporters he was “uneasy” about having a state policy that allowed taking proactive steps to end a life.

Hugh McQuaid Photo On Monday, Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, called the proposal “a very slippery slope” and asked whether Jepsen believed it was appropriate for the state to have such a law.

“The legislature lives on slippery slopes,” Jepsen answered. “Life is all about drawing lines and sometimes living with those choices. This equivalent law has been in effect in Oregon since it was enacted in ‘94 . . . there’s been no abuse and they’ve avoided any difficulty with slippery slopes.”

James McGaughey, executive director of the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, said that anecdotal evidence suggests that difficulties have been encountered elsewhere. He said protections included in a similar policy adopted in the Netherlands are not always working. 

“Surveys reveal that many Dutch doctors now consider having a long-term disability with a ‘poor prognosis’ for improvement as justification for writing a lethal prescription,” he said. “. . . Those examples are real and somewhat frightening for those of us who advocate for people with disabilities.”

Hugh McQuaid Photo People with disabilities have been among the bill’s most outspoken opponents. While supporters often refer to the legislation as “death with dignity,” some with disabilities see the term as a disparaging statement that likens a loss of faculties with a loss of dignity.

“They are saying that ‘I’d rather be dead than be you,’” Elaine Kolb, a disabilities activist, said. “. . . This is something that people are saying to people with disabilities and there is contempt in it and there is contempt in this bill.”

Rep. Susan Johnson, co-chairwoman of the Public Health Committee, told Kolb the legislation was designed to help terminally ill patients, rather than diminish people with disabilities.

“This bill really has nothing to do with disabilities. It has to do with people at the end of their life. Those are two different things,” she said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo Proponents view the issue as a matter of personal choice. Comptroller Kevin Lembo told the committee that he would want the choice for himself if he had a terminal illness.

“Whether or not I exercise my choice in the case of some future terminal illness would be decided by me with my family and my physician,” he said. “. . . I hope that we can agree that no one party can impose their beliefs and positions on another. Careful construction of this law protects every individual from participation.”

Lembo cited statistics from Oregon where 1,050 people had prescriptions for lethal medication written since the law went into effect. Not all of them opted to take their lives with that medication. He said 673 people have died from ingesting the medication in Oregon.

“It’s clear that having the option, having the choice and having the medication is sometimes enough to help us weather any suffering,” he said.

Public Health Committee staff posted 400 pieces of written public testimony for today’s hearing.

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(6) Archived Comments

posted by: Leslie Wolfgang | March 17, 2014  5:25pm

Only 1 legislature (VT) passed assisted suicide laws, the other 2 were by ballot measure.  NH’s Democrat-controlled legislature just overwhelmingly defeated a similar bill last week.  I was at the hearing today and proponents of the measure pressed against a little boy’s family and made him cry as those proponents greedily bullied their way into the hearing room and cut in line.  I told them they were cutting in line and the response was “so what”.  The Capitol Police had to be called and admonished them. The little boy will be ok, but we could do with a little more civility and little less “me, myself, and I” at these hearings.

posted by: Katherine Upson | March 17, 2014  6:47pm

i was present for the first hour of the hearing. I do not understand why Kevin Lembo, Comptroller, was given the privilege of going first.  He was only expressing his personal opinion & has no apparent expertise on the subject.  Atty General Jepson was 2nd, and he, like Lembo, totally supports the bill, but did not seem that well acquainted with details, for an attorney.  He was asked several questions & at least twice didn’t know the answer.  This bill is a terrible idea.  It is not simply about individual choice.  It would affect the entire culture, cheapening life & encouraging all suicide, one of the most tragic things that can happen to a family.  And no matter how carefully written, there would be abuses.

posted by: Tessa Marquis | March 17, 2014  10:09pm

@Katherine Upson - Constitutional Officers, Legislators, Commissioners, and others are given first spots to testify: “At many, but not all hearings, the first hour is reserved for legislators and agency heads or invited guests.”

@Leslie Wolfgang “Remaining speakers are usually called in the order in which their names appear on the signup sheet, although some chairpersons alternate between supporters and opponents of a bill. “

posted by: Chien DeBerger | March 18, 2014  8:05am

I am also troubled with the potential problems this will introduce to the law enforcement community and first responder community. Under Connecticut General Statute 53a-56 Manslaughter in the 2nd Degree cites that: “(a) A person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when: (1) He recklessly causes the death of another person; or (2) he intentionally causes or aids another person, other than by force, duress or deception, to commit suicide.”

In addition, under Connecticut General Statute 17a-503(a) Any police officer who has reasonable cause to believe that a person has psychiatric disabilities and is dangerous to himself or herself or others or gravely disabled, and in need of immediate care and treatment, may take such person into custody and take or cause such person to be taken to a general hospital for emergency examination under this section. The officer shall execute a written request for emergency examination detailing the circumstances under which the person was taken into custody, and such request shall be left with the facility. The person shall be examined within twenty-four hours and shall not be held for more than seventy-two hours unless committed under section 17a-502.

As a police officer, we are frequently called by family members, friends of loved ones who are suicidal, depressed, drug dependent. What are we to do as first responders with these two statutes in force should this become law?

Simply, there are avenues already in place such as living wills, hospice care which takes care of these issues. To codify this is not necessary.

posted by: Tessa Marquis | March 18, 2014  1:03pm

Never call a first responder for a dead loved one. They will revive them, with brain damage, and ice them, and cause everyone no end of misery.

Suicidal people are a separate issue from selecting the time and place to safely die without interference.

posted by: Mmciardiello | March 19, 2014  1:07am

The issue is one of freedom or free will and control over a terminal illness.  On any given day, many people exert their free will, choice and control to end their life.  I am in no way advocating, nor do I support a person taking their own life.  I have a high regard and greatly value human life.

Just yesterday, it was reported a famous fashion designer in NYC committed suicide.  She made the choice and took control to end her own life.  She determined the circumstances and the method.  Granted, this was probably not due to a terminal illness, however, the point I am trying to make is she did determine the circumstances and method and for all intense and purposes would appear to have been in control of that.

Why then do we need to have this legislation?  Out of all the critical issues facing our state,  why do we need to waste taxpayers and legislators time and money to determine an individual’s free will, choice and control over their death and terminal illness when it is already there.  It doesn’t make sense.

And if this bill is not passed, people will say that their choice and freedom were taken away.  Again, this doesn’t make sense.  A person has the capability to control their choices and does not need a doctor to write a prescription for a lethal dose of medication to determine that.

Another thought.  It was mentioned that other states are considering similar or the same legislation.  These states did not go out and actively seek this kind of legislation.  Rather it was the outside organization of Compassion and Choices (also known as the Hemlock Society) that sought support from legislators and are imposing THEIR agenda and THEIR views on these states.

I respectfully ask the members of the Public Health committee to vote NO on HB 5326 and urge you to apply the time and money to support legislation that will help educate and advocate for a true and compassion alternative that can be found in palliative and hospice care.

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