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Saturday, December 03, 2022

Advocates hopeful assisted suicide bill passes this year

Advocates of what’s become a perennial bill that would allow terminally ill adults in Connecticut to request medication to help them die expressed optimism Wednesday this could be the year the proposal finally gets voted on by the full House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont.

Last year the legislation cleared the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee, following roughly a decade of debate, but did not progress further. The same lawmakers are members of the committee this year.

“We’ve been talking about this bill for years. There’s really very little new that we’re talking about here,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, co-chair of the committee, before Wednesday’s often emotional public hearing on the proposal. “What’s going to be new and different is getting this bill passed in the Connecticut Legislature and signed by Governor Lamont. That is our goal this year.”

Steinberg expressed optimism that state legislators who support the bill have “done a good job of educating our colleagues, answering their questions, dispelling myths and unwarranted concerns, to the point where we’ll have widespread support” in both the Senate and House of Representatives . Steinberg also said polling indicates public support in Connecticut for the legislation, which would allow a qualified adult patient who is terminally ill to ultimately be prescribed medication the person would take to end their own life following various steps.

Yet opponents of the bill, including the socially conservative Family Institute of Connecticut, are hopeful they’ll be able to defeat the legislation once again. The FIC’s lobbying arm has said it’s the organization’s top goal this year. Meanwhile, some advocates for people with disabilities argued Wednesday that it’s an especially bad time for lawmakers to debate the bill considering the shortage of direct care workers has caused psychological distress for many people who need daily care and may be inclined to take their own lives out of frustration.

“Suicide is contagious, and this is suicide, no matter how often and fervently you deny it,” wrote Cathy Ludlum, a leader of Second Thoughts Connecticut, an advocacy group for people with disabilities which opposes the legislation, in written testimony. “I am not alone. Many people are hanging on by a thread. Maybe because of unmet disability needs. Maybe because of economic distress. Maybe from isolation and sadness.”

Various proponents of the bill disputed claims the legislation will lead to more suicides.

As in previous years, legislators heard numerous heart-wrenching stories during Wednesday’s public hearing about terminally ill people who’ve suffered both physically and emotionally, due to cancer and other diseases. Kira Philips of Hartford told lawmakers about how her mother fatally shot herself in the family’s backyard shed last June after struggling three years with a form of bone cancer.

“She wished she could have utilized medical aid in dying and even discussed uprooting and moving into Vermont for six months,” Philips said. “But the radiating spinal pain, chronic sickness and fear she endured led her to desperation.”

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