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Grycaj via Shutterstock Credit: Grycaj / Shutterstock

A bill allowing terminally ill patients the option of using medication to end their own lives failed to garner enough support in the legislature’s Judiciary Committee before a Tuesday deadline, effectively halting the proposal for the year. 

This year’s bill, the most recent incarnation of a proposal supporters call aid-in-dying, would have allowed certain adult patients with terminal illnesses to self-administer a lethal dose of a medication. The bill successfully passed out of the Public Health Committee in March but was referred to the Judiciary Committee where it stalled this week. 

Sen. Gary Winfield, a longtime proponent of the bill who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday the proposal did not have enough support among lawmakers on the panel to pass.

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

“We weren’t close,” he said. After a head count, proponents still found themselves about six votes short of enough for passage, he said. 

“It’s unfortunate and I hate the fact that it died in my committee, having been so connected to the bill, but look, that bill is not done,” Winfield said. “It’s been around for awhile. You could bet on it coming back.”

The legislature has considered the concept for years and it draws emotional testimony from people on both sides of the issue. Supporters argue it would allow dying patients a measure of comfort in their final days. Opponents like the Catholic Church and advocates for people with disabilities say it encourages suicide.

In a Tuesday statement, Chris Healy, executive director of the Catholic Public Affairs Conference, called the bill’s defeat a victory for advocates.

“People of faith came together and their voices were heard and we are most grateful to legislators who realized we must show more compassion and support for those who are in distress and isolation, rather than lead people away from hope and love,” Healy said.

Supporters of the measure seemed surprised by the outcome. Tim Appleton, state campaign director of Compassion & Choices, released a statement saying his group believed the proposal had enough support to pass. He said they were “bitterly disappointed by this outcome.”

“But our disappointment does not come close to that of terminally ill advocates who had the courage to share their stories, and those around the state who are desperate for this option now. They pay the cost of today’s legislative inaction. As we have seen every time this bill has failed to move forward, ‘next year’ will simply be too late for some,” Appleton said.

The bill received a virtual public hearing before the Public Health Committee, but Winfield said he felt this year’s pandemic-related constraints made discussing the proposal with other lawmakers more difficult than it might have otherwise been. 

“This year was a hard year to do something like that,” he said. “If you’re going to win on a bill like that, you’ve got to sit down and talk to people face-to-face, to get them to understand what this bill is about from your perspective. It’s hard to do in a Zoom world.”

Although the bill will not progress any further this legislative session, Winfield said he was still optimistic that the group of lawmakers currently in office may be receptive to the proposal during another year. He said many current state representatives and senators were not yet elected last time proponents launched a “full-court press” on the bill. 

“I don’t take this year to be indicative of what this current legislature could actually accomplish,” Winfield said.