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April 20, 2023

CT aid in dying bill won’t advance this year

CT-N Sen. Gary Winfield, a co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, tearfully recalled his mother's death.

For the third straight year, the legislature’s Judiciary Committee essentially ended debate on the issue of aid in dying in Connecticut, declining to vote on the bill.

Sen. Gary Winfield, a co-chair of the committee, said Wednesday that the measure did not have enough support among members.

“We have had this bill come to this committee several times. Unfortunately, we have not been able to move forward,” said Winfield, a New Haven Democrat. “And I will say from the outset, we will not be able to move this bill forward given the votes today.”

“This is an issue that this committee struggles deeply with,” added Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, also a co-chair. “I know it’s an issue I personally struggle deeply with. … There are still some outstanding issues and we are right to be cautious on it.”

As it has the past two years, the proposal advanced out of the Public Health Committee but never made it to the House or Senate for a vote.

Under Senate Bill 1076, adults 21 and older who have been residents of Connecticut for at least a year and who have a terminal illness with less than six months to live can submit two written requests for lethal medication at least 15 days apart. Each request must be given to an attending physician and witnessed by two people who are not relatives, beneficiaries of the patient’s estate or will, managers or owners of a health care facility where the patient resides or receives treatment, or the patient’s doctor. The witnesses must attest that the person appears to be of sound mind and acting voluntarily without coercion.

The patient can rescind the request “at any time and in any manner without regard to such patient’s mental state,” according to the measure. An attending physician must twice offer the patient the opportunity to revoke the request.

If a patient rescinds a request after medication is dispensed, “the attending physician shall inform the patient to safely dispose of the medication at a pharmacy that accepts and disposes of unused prescription drugs … or a municipal police station that collects and disposes of unwanted pharmaceuticals,” the bill states.

At least 10 states and Washington D.C. allow aid in dying, including Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, Montana and New Mexico.

Through tears, Winfield told committee members Wednesday he was supportive of the measure after watching his mother’s decline.

“I can’t get that image out of my head,” he said. “This woman, who I thought was probably one of the strongest people, had tens of heart attacks. … She’d been in a hospital for different things, she had cancer and on and on and on. Somehow she did not die.

“This woman, who was a staple in our church, talked to me about what she believed at the end of her life. This person, who I never would have thought would think this, said to me one time that she wished she could die,” Winfield said. “And she meant on her own terms.

“There are a lot of us who are one bad death away from being a supporter.”

Rep. Jason Doucette, D-Manchester, said his father’s death made him a proponent.

“What changed for me was the death of my father two years ago from esophageal cancer, and particularly the last four months of his life,” he said. “He was on hospice care and was in excruciating pain every day, and he looked me in the eye almost every day I was with him and said, ‘I want to die. I am ready to die.’ As painful as that was for me and as significant an experience that it was in my life … it was his choice.”

Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican, said legalizing aid in dying may put pressure on some people to end their lives.

“In talking about those who are in their older years, who have worked [throughout] their lives to try to hand something down to their loved ones — now they’re laying there and thinking, I’m in pain. It’s hard to go day to day. And every day that I live is less I get to bequeath to my spouse, to my loved one, to my children,” Kissel said. “So what kind of pressure is going to be on that individual if we say as a society, ‘It’s OK to take your own life?’ I’d say for most people, that’s not a huge factor, but for some, it will be.”

Supporters vowed to keep pushing for the bill to be passed in future sessions.

“It is beyond disappointing that the Judiciary Committee did not advance legislation to give terminally ill people the option to end unbearable suffering at the end of life, when we know it has widespread support from an overwhelming majority of Connecticut voters,” said Tim Appleton, senior campaign director of the Compassion & Choices Action Network.

“One day, we’re going to get this bill done,” added Winfield. “That day isn’t today, but it will get done.”

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