For the second consecutive year, a key legislative committee endorsed a controversial bill Friday to allow terminally ill patients in Connecticut an option to end their own lives with doctor-prescribed medication.
The legislation, called aid-in-dying for terminally ill patients, cleared the Public Health Committee on a 21 to 9 vote that followed an emotional public hearing last week. Although the panel’s action ensures the bill can continue in the legislative process, its success is far from certain as the concept draws both support and opposition from legislators on both sides of the aisle.
That was the case again Friday, as lawmakers tried to articulate sometimes-nuanced positions on the difficult topic. As during the public hearing, the frequent deaths of the bill’s advocates, including Kim Hoffman in January, hung poignantly over the proceedings. Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo, D-Ridgefield, invoked the names of several advocates during the meeting.
“For those among this group who feel compelled to mention that we try year after year to no avail to get this done: I wonder if you can remember the names and faces of the people who stood before and begged for this law,” Berger-Girvalo said.
Rep. Kathy Kennedy, R-Milford, described her experiences as a hospice volunteer and the painful end of a friend with ALS, who wished he had ended his life before he lost the ability. She urged colleagues to keep their debate civil.
“Just — let’s not get at each other’s throats. It’s a difficult bill,” Kennedy said. “I wish the safety measures had been put in. They weren’t, but let’s just go forward with a little bit of respect for each other.”
Much of Friday’s debate centered on a legislative maneuver that may allow the bill to avoid being referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it stalled due to lack of support last year. Supporters removed a section creating a class D felony for misusing the medication, which would have forced consideration by the legal panel.
Although no one could say for certain during the meeting whether the change would spare the bill another referral to the Judiciary Committee, supporters argued that selling and distributing prescription drugs was already illegal in Connecticut.
“Every time we turn around someone has a good reason and a legitimate reason why one more thing should be felony,” Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, said. “Felonies ruin peoples’ lives. I’m content with them being arrested for stealing, for having a medication that isn’t prescribed for them… I think that’s enough.”
Republicans on the Public Health Committee tried to add the language back into the bill through an amendment which failed on a 12 to 17 vote.
“We’re talking about medications that are being prescribed for a sole purpose to end a life. To ensure that there’s public safety protections in place are a very consumer friendly, pro-public health policy that I think is important for this committee,” Rep. Christine Carpino, R-Cromwell, said.
Several lawmakers said the legislature’s screening committee would ensure the bill is considered by all necessary panels, including the Judiciary Committee if need be. However, it seemed unlikely Friday that it had the support to clear the legal panel.
Last year, the committee’s co-chair, Sen. Gary Winfield, said the group was well short of the support necessary to approve the bill. On Friday, Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who offered stirring testimony in support of the legislation last week, said he wanted to see a different outcome this year, but predicted it would be an uphill battle.
“My hope is that it passes. The dynamics in the [judiciary] committee have not changed though,” Winfield said in a text. “I think it has a difficult journey to passage and hope that those who are advocating for it will stay steadfast in doing their work.”