Will Connecticut Legislature Avoid Aid-in-Dying Bill Another Year?

January 31, 2016; Hartford Courant

Nonprofit advocates are almost never happy with the odd and relatively unpredictable pacing of legislative change, although they grudgingly accept its inevitability. It feels great when you reach that watershed moment where bills move (after which, of course, you face the uphill battle of implementation) but the years- and sometimes decades-long campaigns to get laws changed can be grueling.

NPQ has been following many of the nonprofit-led campaigns across the country to pass death with dignity legislation, including California’s effort last year. National nonprofit Compassion & Choices (C&C) has made some strides in the movement by pressuring state legislatures to pass aid-in-dying bills that would allow terminally ill patients to request the assistance of physicians in ending their lives. While C&C’s national campaign has resulted in significant activity in twenty-seven states and D.C., Connecticut’s campaign has been stalled in the General Assembly for three years despite heavy lobbying. According to the Hartford Courant, 2016 is unlikely to be the year legislators finally address the aid-in-dying bill.

Over the past two years, C&C has organized patients and families to offer heart-wrenching testimonials to the Connecticut state legislature, asking them to pass a bill to allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults to seek physician help in ending their lives. This year portends to follow previous years’ delays. Anne Singer, spokesperson for C&C in Washington said, “We don’t expect to see a bill this year.” That’s because the 2016 legislative session, which begins on February 3rd, is only three months long and is reserved for budgetary matters. Politicians in this election year are unlikely to want to grapple with this controversial issue.

Not only are activists in Connecticut up against a political tide opposing assisted suicide legislation, but they face an equally formidable nonprofit coalition on the other side, which includes the Catholic Church, disability rights activists, and the Connecticut State Medical Society. As the Family Institute of Connecticut, a nonprofit social welfare organization against assisted suicide, stated on its blog:

The Connecticut electorate knows they would be better served by expanded access to early palliative and hospice care, increased funding for home health care workers and mandatory training for pain management techniques for medical students. These would be ways to help hundreds and thousands of residents in ways that laws permitting assisted suicide cannot.

However, opposition and delay have not stopped the organization from building support. Singer said, “We are continuing with all the public outreach we have been doing, building up the grassroots…so that when a bill is next introduced, we are ready to roll.” She goes on to say, “We’re busier than ever internally, but it just may not look like it out there.”

In 2013, Vermont became the first state to pass a death-with-dignity law through the legislative process. The C&C Vermont team continues working with Patient Choices Vermont, C&C’s physician allies, and nurse leaders to expand implementation. C&C Vermont helped successfully defend access to death with dignity under Act 39 during the 2015 legislative session against efforts to repeal the law. However, efforts to enact such a law in New Jersey fell short late last month. To date, California, Washington, Oregon, and Vermont currently have right-to-die legislation in place.

At the center of this frustration over delays are the various patients in Connecticut who are unable to address their pain and suffering. Last April, after yet another failed attempt to pass legislation, Tim Appleton, C&C’s Connecticut campaign director, said, “Each year that lawmakers fail to act prolongs the suffering for thousands of terminally ill Connecticut residents and the people who love them.”

Last year, referring to the Connecticut General Assembly’s dragging of its collective feet, the state’s paper of record, the Courant, editorialized, “Letting substantive bills die on the committee floor without a vote happens far too often in the General Assembly. It’s a cowardly way to do the public’s business.” Now, in 2016, it seems as though Connecticut will see another year go by without any movement, and that will be longer than some sick people will live.—G. Meredith Betz

  • Bradley Williams

    I see you all will be reporting on a legalize assisted suicide bill upcoming.
    I have found (serving 60 fair booth days) that about half of the public thinks they are in favor of such a law, that is until they learn about the flaws in the laws that create new paths of elder abuse with immunity. Once they learn that a predatory heir may steer the signup process and then forcibly administer the lethal dose without oversight, they all said, “I am not for that!”.
    Anyway all of these Oregon Model bills have the same flaws that eviscerate flaunted safe guards.
    Here is an example list of flaws posted recently about the New Jersey bill that failed.

    The New Jersey Alliance exposed the following flaws in S 382:
    No requirement of mental health evaluation or pain relief consultation.
    Permits an heir to witness a death request.
    Requires no oversight on whether the patient was willing to take the lethal drugs.
    No requirement that a medical person be present to supervise the ingestion of lethal drugs.
    Allows a third party familiar with how the patient communicates to make the death request.
    * Permits lethal drugs to remain in a patient’s home without securing them.

    * Relies on the inaccurate premise that a doctor can predict death within six months.

    * No distinction as to whether the death prediction is with or without treatment of the patient.

    * No required notification of family members.

    Immunizes from prosecution anyone participating in administering lethal drugs, even if their participation was coercive and out of self-interest

    Falsely certifies the cause of death.

    The New Jersey Alliance Against Doctor-Prescribed Suicide is a broadly-based, diverse coalition of organizations strongly opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide.
    Use this as a check off list on your bill when it is published. Well worth your time.
    At your service,
    Bradley Williams
    MTaas dot org
    Hamilton, MT 59840

  • diane_coleman

    One question that arises is why this article did not include interviews with nonprofits that oppose legalizing assisted suicide as public policy? Without a balanced discussion of the issues, how will people learn about Oregon’s Medicaid agency denying prescribed chemotherapy to patients like Barbara Wagner as reported by ABC News, but offering other “treatments” including assisted suicide? How will they connect the dots between rising rates of elder abuse and the empty facade of protections in assisted suicide bills? How will they understand why the generally left-leaning disability rights movement opposes these laws as a serious danger to devalued old, ill and disabled people? For some of the critical information missed in this one-sided NPQ article, please see these three resources: