Nursing home bed
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A bill to allow terminally ill patients in Connecticut to end their lives through medication was dealt a blow Thursday when the Senate referred it to the Judiciary Committee, a legislative panel that lacked the votes to pass it last year.

The legislation, called aid-in-dying for terminally ill patients, cleared the Public Health Committee for the second consecutive year. Opponents of the bill objected when the public health panel made alterations to its language, apparently in hopes of avoiding a referral to the Judiciary Committee.

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However, Senate leaders announced Thursday the bill would still need to be cleared by the legal committee in order to continue in the legislative process. 

“The bill deals with the issue of legal liability and/or exemptions from such liability for physicians and with actions regarding the competency of a person to make a choice to end his or her life thus falling within the cognizance of the Judiciary Committee,” Senate President Martin Looney and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said in a joint statement.

With less than a month left in this year’s short session, the referral diminishes the bill’s chances of passage. It was unclear Friday whether it had support enough to advance out of the Judiciary Committee, where leaders claimed they were significantly short of enough votes to pass it last year.

In March, Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the committee, said the dynamics of the panel had not changed. In a text Thursday Winfield, a supporter of the bill, said he was not sure if any members had been swayed. 

“[W]e are working on it to see if we can get a different result,” Winfield said. 

Tim Appleton, senior campaign director of Compassion and Choices, an organization that lobbies for the bill, declined to speculate Friday on whether there was enough support on the Judiciary Committee to advance the bill this year. 

However, Appleton said supporters had stepped up efforts to communicate with members of the legal panel, given the bill’s fate in 2021. 

“There is no question aid-in-dying will pass here in Connecticut, especially when, according to polls, 75% of people support it. That tells me some day, this bill will pass,” Appleton said. “The only question is, how many people will have to die, suffering immeasurably at end of life before that happens?”

In the past, the bill has drawn support and opposition from both sides of the aisle. Proponents argue the policy, which has been adopted in some form in 10 other states, gives dying residents a choice at the end of their lives. Opponents, including some religious organizations and people with disabilities, argue the bill endorses suicide over improvements to end of life care. 

The bill is designed to apply to patients with less than six months to live and who are considered “competent” and capable of making health care decisions. It requires two doctors attest to the patient’s diagnosis and competency to make the call. 

Many supporters hoped to see the bill’s success this session, which started about a month after the death of Kim Hoffman, one of Connecticut’s most vocal advocates for the policy. Hoffman died in January after a more than eight year struggle with terminal cancer. 

In February, her father, Herb Hoffman, testified before the legislature and urged lawmakers to endorse the bill. He told the committee he was also suffering from terminal cancer. Shortly after the Public Health Committee advanced the proposal, Hoffman died. He had relocated to California in order to take advantage of that state’s aid-in-dying law. 

On Friday, Appleton called the elder Hoffman a “medical refugee.” 

“He pulled up stakes in Connecticut and took a lonely trip out to southern California in order to access aid-in-dying because he knew he didn’t want the same journey that his daughter had just made,” Appleton said.