Lawmakers on the Public Health Committee reintroduced legislation Monday to allow terminally ill patients in Connecticut the option of using medication to end their own lives. The move rekindles a divisive and emotional issue during the short, election year session.
During a morning meeting held virtually on Zoom, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Westport Democrat and proponent of the bill, pointed to the incremental successes of the concept, which supporters call aid-in-dying. After years of unsuccessful attempts, the public health panel, which Steinberg co-chairs, passed the concept last year only to see it fail in the Judiciary Committee.
“Given the positive progress this bill has had in the past year or two, it seems reasonable to assume this might have greater prospects this year and that is why the chairs have decided to include this on the agenda,” Steinberg said.
As in the past, there was no consensus on that point. In fact, Steinberg agreed to split the concept from an agenda of less thorny issues to be raised Monday in an unconventional effort to let other lawmakers state their concerns on a concept and vote separately.
During past sessions, public hearings on the bill have drawn emotional testimony from advocates on both sides of the issues. Supporters have argued 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.
The committee raised this year’s concept less than a month after the death of Kim Hoffman, one of Connecticut’s most vocal advocates for the legislation. Hoffman died in January after a more than eight year struggle with terminal cancer.
As lawmakers on both sides remarked on embarking on yet another debate over the issue, Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, referenced those advocates who did not live to see the benefit of the policy they’d fought for.
“This can’t come a moment too soon for those who are suffering from a terminal diagnosis or those who have loved ones who are suffering. Obviously, this bill actually comes too late for many,” Haskell said.
However, opponents argue the legislature’s time might be better spent developing policies to improve end of life care.
“In my conversations with many of the health care professionals, that deal with end of life, they have said they would much prefer for us to have a conversation about palliative care here,” Sen. Heather Somers, R- Groton, said. “How it can be improved rather than to move forward with the bill they have reviewed which they feel did not provide enough safeguards for those that are going home to end their own lives.”
Rep. William Petit, a Plainville Republican and doctor, said medical associations were split on the issue.
“Given the many other issues we face, and that this will likely be an all day public hearing and as much or longer on the House floor, I don’t know that this has priority but that would be my personal opinion,” Petit said.