Hugh McQuaid photo
Public Health Committee Chairwoman Sen. Terry Gerratana (Hugh McQuaid photo)

The Public Health Committee has no plans to vote on controversial legislation allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives before the bill reaches a critical deadline on Friday.

Inaction on the legislation this week will effectively defeat the bill in committee for the second consecutive year. On Tuesday, supporters were acknowledging the concept was unlikely to pass this year, but said they were happy with the level of attention and debate the bill generated during a short legislative session.

“This is a short session, so I’m not sure if that’s the right thing. Our goal was to make sure that the discussion really increased. I think we exceeded that in a really big way. So I’m pleased,” Rep. Betsy Ritter, a proponent of the bill, said.

CTNJ file photo
Rep. Elizabeth Ritter (CTNJ file photo)

Ritter pointed to data from a Quinnipiac University poll conducted this year that suggested 61 percent of the public supported the concept. She said the bill also was the subject of a public hearing again this year, which generated a lot of debate.

Sen. Terry Gerratana, co-chairwoman of the Public Health Committee, also praised the tenor of this year’s debate on what is a very difficult issue for most people. But she said “more than likely” her committee would not be taking action on it this year.

“This year I think there was concern over timing,” she said. “We still have people with disabilities who are concerned, so that has to be worked out. We still have concerns for religious reasons, that this might not be the appropriate way to go. So even though, more than likely it’s not going to show up on an agenda for the committee . . . the conversation goes on.”

Both this year and last year, people with disabilities and their advocates have been among the bill’s most outspoken opponents. Many testified against the bill during its public hearing. They voiced concerns over a “slippery slope,” which they fear may see doctors writing lethal prescriptions for conditions like long-term disabilities.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also expressed skepticism about the concept this year. The governor said he would consider the legislation if it passed, but told reporters he was “uneasy” about having a state policy that allowed taking proactive steps to end a life.

Instead, Malloy endorsed another bill aimed at giving patients broader rights to refuse treatment near the end of their lives.

“If it’s more like the directive bill as opposed to an assisted suicide bill, then I think it will pass. If it’s an assisted suicide bill, I think it’s going to get some opposition,” he said.

Gerratana said she expected that her committee will pass the directive bill, known as “medical orders for life sustaining treatment.” She said increased legislative scrutiny over end of life issues has been a positive consequence of the assisted suicide debate.

“One of the good outcomes has been the talk about advanced directives and talk about planning for end of life, a subject most people don’t want to talk about,” she said. “The outcomes are very good. I think M.O.L.S.T. will pass this year too. It gets that whole end of life discussion into people’s lives.”

Ritter said she expects that the aid-in-dying debate will begin again next year when lawmakers meet for a longer legislative session. Gerratana agreed, saying it was an important issue to consider. She said the rhetoric of the debate on the subject seems to be toning down as advocates on both sides get used to talking about it.

“Sometimes the timing is right and sometimes it isn’t, in plain English. [But] we all noticed the rhetoric was not as intense and not . . . so divided,” she said. “That conversation is going to continue and there are people talking about it more civilly, if you will, and not so polarized.”

Tim Appleton, state director of Compassion and Choices Connecticut, said he was happy the committee gave the bill a public hearing.

“I was pleased that in a short session and an election year not only were we able to increase the conversation about end-of-life choice here at the Capitol, but we were also able to secure a public hearing where that conversation was expanded throughout the state.”

He said they look forward to a debate on the issue again next year.