HARTFORD — More than a decade of frustration by supporters of aid-in-dying legislation in Connecticut will continue for at least another year after a Monday vote at the State Capitol that again rejected the proposal first floated 13 years ago.
By a mostly party-line vote of 5 to 4 by Senate members of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, the latest version of the bill failed to advance to a debate of the full General Assembly, effectively defeating it.
The vote came despite public polling that shows nearly two-thirds of Connecticut residents would support allowing terminally-ill patients to end their life with a lethal dose of medication after their request was approved by two doctors and subject to other protocols to ensure it was made independently and of sound mind.
Calling it potentially “horrible” public policy, State Sen. John Kissell, R-Enfield, led opposition to the bill Monday, saying he was “vehemently” against it at a time when the state’s population is aging and suicides by young people are escalating.
“If all of a sudden we move forward in this direction I just think that there’s a whole group of individuals that would never think this way that all of a sudden would be thinking of offing themselves or killing themselves,” Kissell said. “I just think that we’re a better society than this.”
Kissell said he believes in “miracles” that save lives seemingly at their end, and that the legislature should instead address the issue by more fully funding health care and hospice services.
Similar aid-in-dying legislation has been approved in ten other states, including Vermont, Maine and New Jersey.
“On behalf of the hundreds of Connecticut residents who have advocated for medical aid in dying to give terminally ill people the option to end unbearable suffering at the end of life, we are truly disappointed with today’s Judiciary Committee vote,” said Tim Appleton, a director with the Compassion & Choices advocacy group. “While medical aid in dying has advanced further this year than ever before, today’s vote will mean immeasurable suffering for terminally ill people who shared their stories with lawmakers, and for whom another legislative session will come too late.”
A portion of the bill spelled out how a patient would formally request the medication that would end their life if they are suffering from an “incurable and irreversible” condition that two doctors have determined would result in death within six months.
“I have been fully informed of my diagnosis, prognosis, the nature of medication to be dispensed or prescribed to aid me in dying, the potential associated risks, the expected result, feasible alternatives to aid in dying and additional health care treatment options, including hospice care and palliative care and the availability of counseling with a psychologist, psychiatrist or licensed clinical social worker,” that section of the bill reads.
“I request that my attending physician dispense or prescribe medication that I may self-administer for aid in dying. I authorize my attending physician to contact a pharmacist to fill the prescription for such medication, upon my request.”
“I think this bill has protections,” against misuse, said Democratic State Sen. Saud Anwar, a physician who recited a list of poll results that showed widespread public support for the bill across ages, gender, political affiliation and other demographics. “Anyone who is opposed to this is literally, God forbid, one ugly death away from a friend or a family member’s death to be able to be a proponent.”
Anwar noted that the bill had previously been passed this legislative session with bipartisan support by the legislature’s Public Health Committee, of which he is also a member.
In a rarely-used parliamentary move initiated by Republican members, the Judiciary Committee’s vote on Monday was “split,” meaning that the nine Senators on the 39-member panel voted first, and their 5 to 4 vote in opposition blocked it from moving forward.
Voting against the measure were Republicans Kissell, Dan Champagne, Paul Ciccarella and Rob Sampson, along with Democrat Mae Flexer.
Kissell was the only one of the group who elaborated on his opposition to the legislation, which was supported by Democrats Gary Winfield, Matthew Lesser, Will Haskell and Anwar.
Winfield recalled the agonizing death of his mother about ten years ago, following decades of medical issues that she stoically fought through.
“At the end, she begged to die,” Winfield said, his voice cracking with emotion. “Senator Kissell said that he believes in miracles. I wish there were miracles.”