Connecticut Lawmakers Revisit Medical-Aid-in-Dying Proposals

by Christian Wade


Connecticut lawmakers are revisiting proposals that would authorize physicians to administer lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients.

A pair of bills being considered by the General Assembly would put Connecticut in line with Vermont, Maine and seven other states that have “death with dignity” statutes, also known as physician-assisted suicide or medical-aid-in-dying laws.

Under one proposal, an adult deemed terminally ill by physicians would have the right to request medication they would administer themselves to end their life.

Over the past week, supporters and opponents of the proposals have flooded the Legislature’s Public Health Committee with testimony, urging lawmakers to reject or approve the bills. The panel held a public hearing on the bills Tuesday, which drew dozens of commenters.

Amanda Villegas says she watched her bed-ridden husband, who died of Stage 4 bladder cancer, suffer during the final days of his life as the illness “consumed his body like a rabid parasite.” She said he was “denied the right to die peacefully,” because the state has refused to authorize medical-aid-in-dying.

“Every human deserves the right to choose if they are dying and suffering needlessly,” Villegas said in testimony. “It is not suicide, it is not euthanasia, it is a means to end suffering that is going to end in a nightmarish death.”

Critics of medical aid in dying laws, including medical and religious groups and advocates for those with disabilities, say misdiagnoses are common.

Terminally ill patients suffer from depression, they note, and may irrationally decide to end their lives.

Others argue legalizing physician assisted suicide would encourage suicide among those suffering from depression and other mental health issues.

“Connecticut has a responsibility to protect its most vulnerable persons — including people living in poverty, the elderly, and those living with disabilities — from abuse, neglect, and coercion,” Steven Aden, chief legal counsel for Americans United of Life, said in testimony against the proposals.

“These individuals are already exposed to greater risks, thus, legalizing suicide by physician is neither “compassionate” nor an appropriate solution for those who may suffer depression or loss of hope at the end of their lives,” he said.

Those who back the proposals say it would include safeguards to prevent abuse and rules to keep doctors from prescribing lethal drugs to those with mental health issues or impaired judgment.

The measures, if approved, would require patients to make verbal requests for a doctor’s intervention and get a written request by two witnesses.

A physician would need to certify the patient seeking access to lethal medicine is suffering from an incurable, irreversible condition.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1997 left the issue largely up to states. Thirty-seven states have since banned the practice, either at the ballot box or by legislative act.

To date, nine other states, including Washington D.C., have approved so-called “death with dignity” statutes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Methods of physician-assisted suicide vary by state, but typically involve prescriptions. Doctors are required to notify patients of alternatives, such as hospice care, and wait at least 48 hours after receiving a patient’s written request.

A 2016 Gallup poll found 69% of the country believes doctors should be allowed to end a patient’s life by painless means. At least 51% say they would consider ending their lives if faced with a terminal illness.

Connecticut lawmakers have for years considered proposals that would allow medical aid in dying for those with terminal illness. But the perennial proposals have failed to gain traction, despite broad support and emotional testimony from terminally ill patients who have packed hearings to tell their stories.

Tim Appleton, of the Compassion and Choices Action Network, said he has testified on similar Connecticut bills on at least 10 different occasions, only to see the proposals languish in legislative committees amid a lack of traction.

“During that time, I have mourned the loss of dear friends who have come before this committee using their last days on this earth advocating for aid in dying and have died waiting for the legislature to act,” he said in testimony. “Our state can and should improve palliative and hospice care while at the same time offering some people, with strict safeguards, access to aid in dying.”

– – –

Christian Wade is a contributor to The Center Square. 




Related posts