Activists gathered at the Connecticut State Capitol yesterday to testify and advocate for their positions on a bill which would legalize a type of assisted suicide in the state.
House Bill 6645, “AN ACT CONCERNING COMPASSIONATE AID IN DYING FOR TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS.”, allows for physicians to prescribe lethal drugs to patients, without administering the drugs themselves, in order for them to end their lives.
This bill comes in the wake of a similar proposition being struck down by public referendum in Massachusetts this past fall; were Connecticut to pass the bill, it would be the first state to allow such a policy by legislative enactment, and just the third in total, behind Oregon and Washington, who passed similar initiatives by public referenda. The proposed policy was referred to the Committee on Public Health, which decided to hold a public hearing yesterday to hear testimony from those supporting and opposing the legislation
Before the hearing began, Second Thoughts, a Connecticut advocacy group opposing assisted suicide, held a press conference along with the Family Institute of Connecticut Action and other like-minded organizations, to oppose H.B. 6645.
Opponents of the Bill who stood with Cathy Ludlum – law professor, hospice nurse, and the head of Second Choices – included Peter Wolfgang – Executive Director of FIC Action, State Senators Michael McLachlan, Jason Welch, and Joseph Markley, State Representative Vincent J. Candelora, Jim McGahey – head of CT Advocate Office for People with Disabilities, Nancy Hicok – of “Not Dead Yet” and Professor Stephen Mikochik – former disability law expert for the U.S. Justice Department and Emeritus Professor of Law and Temple Law School.
While most individuals gave moral support, the most rigorous and passionate words were from Professor Mikochik, who held the audience captive, all the while being unable to see the audience because of his blindness, and talked about the impact this bill would have in treating certain stages of life as being less valuable and worth living than others.
The day turned out to be a long one for any laymen wanting to testify on the proposition, as there were several bills on the docket to discuss beforehand. Public officials and individuals with specific needs were given opportunity first to testify on any bill being discussed that day, and Sen. McLachlan and Rep. Adinolfi, as members of the legislature, testified against the bill as setting a dangerous precedent for the way life is treated in the state, and the risks inherent for individuals in vulnerable states, both physically and emotionally, as would be the qualified patients referred to in the legislation.
Rep. Boucher brought William Meyer, a gentleman who testified to having killed his father to testify in support of the bill, and the Deputy Speaker of the House also testified in support of the legislation. McGahey of CT Advocate Office for People with Disabilities testified to make a point that this was not a liberal vs. conservative issue, as the organization tended to be progressive on issues, but that it was about rights everyone should be able to support. Sen. Edward Meyer, the sponsor of the bill, testified that while he still supported it, even he believed it needed a waiting period and other safeguards to be added, in contrast with other supporters.
When non-state officials to testify, Professor Mikochik presented his side, as did “Not Dead Yet” member, and Director of Massachusetts “Second Thoughts”, John Kelly. Mikochik in particular spoke about how this new law is worse than the one that failed in Massachusetts as it does not have a mandatory waiting period; it allows a lethal dose in-hand on the day the physician tells the patient he or she is terminally ill.
He continued about the bills other flaws including that: there was no mandated psychological review and that doctors who judged competency had no mandatory training, that competency was only required at prescription and not at ingestion, that studies show 95% of individuals considering suicide are clinically depressed, and that the bill falsified medical data by not providing the true cause of death. He said, “All we’re doing in 6645 is singling out 1 group of disabled people [terminals] and saying their life is less worthy… What stops us from extending this to another group whose lives we think are also less worthy?”
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Throughout the day and into the late evening individuals testified on the bill. Individuals in favor of the bill disputed that it was about “physician assisted suicide” but that it was “death with dignity” or “aid in dying.” Hospice officials and many physicians testified in opposition, arguing that the state should be putting its efforts behind improving care and promoting hope and comfort, not providing death, and that this bill allowed doctors to violate their oath to “first do no harm”. Other physicians responded by arguing that their oath also requires them to watch over their patients in both life and death.
Several activists stayed until the late evening and early morning. Peter Wolfgang, of FIC Action opposed any amendment which would provide any type of safety mechanism, saying that unless the safety mechanism prevented the ending of any patient’s life, then it was not enough. Michael Culhane, a 12 year cancer survivor testified about how uncertain terminal determinations are, and that no doctor can affirmatively guarantee a 6 month life expectancy.
As the clock struck midnight, Pamela Lucashu, a volunteer for hospice, advocated that the state promote palliative and pain management care, as opposed to advocating for death, because no suicide is a dignified death. The final testimony on the bill was provided by Connecticut Right to Life, in opposition, at 12:09AM.
Other written testimony can be read as electronically submitted at: http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CommDocTmyBillAllComm.asp?bill=HB-06645&doc_year=2013
LifeNews Note: Stephen Lyon is a law student at the University of Connecticut.