Hugh McQuaid Photo
Portraits of “aid-in-dying” supporters will be displayed in the State Capitol for two weeks beginning Friday as part of this year’s push for legislation to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives.

Advocates of the proposal announced the new campaign to legalize the practice at a Wednesday morning press conference in the Legislative Office Building.

The photos will hang along the State Capitol concourse from Jan. 31 to Feb. 14 and feature advocates seeking legislation to permit terminally ill patients in Connecticut to end their lives with the help of a doctor. Each picture also will include a quote like “Quality of life includes peaceful death.”

Permitting a doctor to prescribe drugs to end the life of a terminally ill and mentally competent patient is legal in only a handful of states. Vermont, Oregon, Washington, and Montana all have laws permitting the practice. A court decision from earlier this month could make New Mexico the fifth state in which it is legal.

A group called Compassion and Choices Connecticut is hoping build on an effort that began in this state last year and see a bill raised during the legislative session that begins next week.

Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, and other lawmakers raised similar proposals last year which resulted in the first public hearing on the topic before Connecticut’s legislature. The hearing was widely attended and drew testimony from residents both for and against the law.

Ultimately the bill was never passed out of the Public Health Committee. Ritter said she’s urged the committee’s leadership to raise the bill again this year but that decision has yet to be made. Ritter and other supporters said it will take time for lawmakers to consider the issue.

“For a lot of people death is a very difficult subject,” Rep. Phil Miller, D-Ivoryton, said Wednesday. “But I hope as we begin an objective discussion about this, we can view death as part of the life experience.”

Hugh McQuaid Photo
Advocates frame the issue in terms of personal choice and dignity. Sara Myers, a Kent resident who suffers from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, said she has considered moving to a country or state where the practice is legal but does not want to leave her home.

“If you know what this disease is, you know I don’t have an easy time ahead of me . . . all of the muscles in my body are dying,” Myers said. “. . . I still think I wish I had the choice to have help when enough is enough to end my suffering.”

But proposals here have drawn opposition from a wide variety of organizations ranging from the Connecticut State Medical Society to Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference. Disability advocates also fought last year’s legislation.

Peter Wolfgang, executive director of a social conservative group called the Family Institute of Connecticut, called the proposal a “fringe effort by a small group.”

Hugh McQuaid Photo
“We have a lot of allies in opposition to assisted suicide who disagree with us on everything else under the sun. But there are both conservatives and progressives that oppose assisted suicide because it’s bad public policy,” he said Wednesday.

Wolfgang said last year’s bill was “soundly defeated” because it lacked the support to pass the legislature.

Sen. John Kissel, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, issued a statement following Wednesday’s press conference opposing the proposal. He said he was concerned about the impact such a law could have on the elderly and disabled.

“This legislation represents a slippery slope for those who can’t advocate well for themselves.  I am worried that this law, if passed, would open the door for undue influence of the elderly and disabled by allowing those around them to influence their decision to commit suicide for their own gain,” Kissel said.

Supporters are hoping that some lawmakers have shifted their opinion of the legislation. They cited a poll commissioned by Compassion and Choices Connecticut before last year’s legislative session that suggested a majority of those surveyed in Connecticut supported an aid-in-dying law.

Even if supporters succeeded in passing the legislation, it is unclear whether Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would support it. Asked last year about the bill, Malloy called it “a very complex and difficult issue” and said he was undecided.

“It’s an issue that’s fraught with fears, represents taboos both religious and societal. It also raises very substantial questions about the ability of one to control their own destiny,” he said.