Portraits of “aid-in-dying” supporters that covered the walls of the underground tunnel between the Legislative Office Building and the state Capitol were abruptly taken down Friday night.
The photos were scheduled to will be displayed in the concourse until Feb. 14 and were part of this year’s push for legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives.
It’s unclear exactly why the photos were removed. Phone calls to Legislative Management, which manages the building, went unanswered Friday evening.
“We heard from many people in the Capitol that they really liked the display on the opening day of session,” Tim Appleton, state director of Compassion and Choices Connecticut, said Friday. “We did everything right in submitting for this. We are hoping to find a new home for it.”
The photos included quotes from supporters of the cause.
“I am concerned that the voices of our supporters are being silenced in a place meant to enhance public debate,” Appleton said. “Why aren’t these citizens allowed to be heard through this portrait display? We hope legislators will take the time to hear from the people in these portraits in an upcoming hearing.”
Last year was the first time a public hearing was held on legislation that would make it legal for terminally ill patients to take their own lives.
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.
The issue is a difficult one for lawmakers.
“For a lot of people death is a very difficult subject,” Rep. Phil Miller, D-Ivoryton, said in January when the group announced its display. “But I hope as we begin an objective discussion about this, we can view death as part of the life experience.”
The proposal has drawn criticism from a wide variety of organizations ranging from the Connecticut State Medical Society to the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference. Disability advocates also fought last year’s legislation.
“This legislation represents a slippery slope for those who can’t advocate well for themselves,” Sen. John Kissel said in January. “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.”
But supporters of the law don’t believe it’s a slippery slope. They believe it’s necessary so that no one ends up in prison for assisting a person who wants to end their life.
One of the men in the photo display was Huntington Williams of West Cornwall.
In 2004, Williams was charged with manslaughter for supporting his friend, John Welles, in ending his life.
Welles was living alone and dying from advanced prostate cancer. Williams said his friend made it known that he wanted to end his life. So one day Williams made sure the .38 caliber revolver was operable and handed it back to Welles.
“John loaded the gun and walked, with the aid of a walker, out into his garden. He lay down and I suggested where to aim the gun,” Williams said back in 2009. “I walked 100 yards up the driveway and called out ‘God Bless . . .’ but before I got to the ‘you’ out I heard the gun fire.”
He then went back to determine if Welles had been successful and called 911. Six months later he was charged with manslaughter. He was later convicted on the charge, but was given accelerated rehabilitation instead of prison time.
“It’s time for the courts to make it clear that John Welles deserved better, that I deserved better, and that terminal patients and their families in our great state of Connecticut deserve better,” Williams has said.