There’s a cost when state legislators dither. Sometimes, the cost is political. Someone loses an election.
But sometimes, the cost is far more dire.
Kim Hoffman died after cancer spread through her body and left her in pain that not even morphine could ease. More than once, Hoffman testified before Connecticut state legislators to ask they give her and others the option of a medically-aided death, where a doctor would prescribe medication to end her life, and her suffering.
Instead, the beloved school social worker and tennis coach died in January 2022 after nearly 9 years of living with cancer. George Will wrote a column about Hoffman and her advocacy, which is continued by her wife, Joy Cipollo. The couple had talked, prior to Hoffman’s death, about moving to a state where medically-assisted deaths are legal, but they stayed. They were committed to bringing the option here, to Connecticut.
This legislative session – without Hoffman but with Cipollo and others like her – legislators will once again consider a bill that would allow mentally competent, terminally-ill patients the option to end their lives with doctor-prescribed medication.
Since 1994, Tim Appleton, senior campaign director for Connecticut and Delaware for Compassion and Choices, an organization that focuses on end-of-life issues, said Connecticut legislators have considered similar bills 15 times. (Appleton has been part of the effort for 10 years.)
So why try again? New legislators who just came on board have shown an interest in passing this, Appleton said. Last session’s bill, which was modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, had 37 co-sponsors, up from 30 in 2021. However, the bill died in the Judiciary Committee after an unusual procedure through which the bill first failed to clear the Senate portion of the committee. After that vote, the remaining House panel tabled the legislation without action.
Connecticut residents say they support the legislation. A March 2021 survey from Greenberg Quinian Rosner, a D.C.-based polling company, said 75% of Connecticut voters support legislation that would allow people with less than six months to live the option of taking doctor-prescribed medication that would end their lives. The option would be the choice of the person battling a terminal illness. No one would be forced into this. From that same survey, 84% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans, and 74% of independents support medically-aided dying, as do 65% of people who have a disability.
Some historic opponents to the legislation have vast resources and an impressive ability to organize. In 2020, the Vatican strongly condemned such an end to life as an unjustifiable “act of homicide,” and characterized people who vote for such legislation as “accomplices of a grave sin.” A medical-aid-in-dying ballot question in 2012 in Massachusetts was met with an opposing and fierce multi-million dollar campaign by Catholic leadership. Connecticut Catholic leadership is similarly opposed, but, Appleton said, according to Greenberg Quinian Rosner, 69% of Roman Catholics, 70% of Protestants, and 89% of people who claimed no religious affiliation support the legislation.
Elsewhere, 10 states and the District of Columbia offer residents the option of medical-aid in dying. Without a federal law, requirements vary from state to state. New Mexico, which in 2021 became the most recent state to approve the measure, named their law after a state judge who testified in favor of medical-assistance in dying, and then died of cancer the next year.
On Wednesday at the State Capitol, Appleton and others presented large portraits – Hoffman’s among them – of people who’ve died waiting for a Connecticut medical-aid-in-dying law. Family members talked about the last horrible days of their loved ones. State Sen. Saud Anwar, a Democratic physician who chairs the legislative public health committee, talked about his change of heart on the issue, as a doctor who is hard-wired to heal people.
When patients have reached the end of viable treatment and death is imminent, said Anwar, “we have a responsibility at that time to give those people an option” for medical assistance in dying.
The senator said this year’s bill – which the public health committee voted to raise on Wednesday – will contain more protections so the risk of an unintended death – advocates say there’s been no such abuse – is minimized and, said Appleton, safeguards and access are balanced.
In March 2022, Amy Bloom, Wesleyan University professor and award-winning author, published “In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss,” about the medically-aided death of her husband, Brian Ameche, who’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His obituary said only that he’d “died peacefully in the presence of his loved ones.” That was true; in 2020, he and his wife traveled to Switzerland to medically end his life.
“Aid in dying is an issue of real stories of real people, and far too many have fought for change, but have literally died waiting for the legislature to act,” Appleton said.
It’s time. It’s past time.