The fate of a bill to allow terminally ill adults an option in Connecticut to end their own lives will be decided Wednesday in the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, a legal panel where similar proposals have stalled over the last two years.
The bill, called “Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Patients,” advanced out of the Public Health Committee in March and was referred to the Judiciary Committee by the state Senate last week.
On Monday, Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who serves as one of the committee’s two chairs, said leaders of the panel would gauge the bill’s support ahead of a meeting on Wednesday and either raise it for a vote or shelf it, depending on what they hear from members.
“My intention is to bring it to a vote if at all possible,” Winfield, a supporter of the proposal, said.
The Judiciary Committee put a different version of the proposal to an unsuccessful vote last year. After opponents of the measure employed a rarely used legislative tactic to split the joint panel along House and Senate lines, the group’s senators voted 5 to 4 to defeat the bill.
So far this year, Winfield has declined to make predictions about support for the concept among lawmakers on his committee, in part because the composition of the panel changed following last year’s election and the issue tends to divide legislators on personal rather than political lines.
“The hard part about that particular piece of legislation is you can’t really break it down along the lines you normally break it down,” he said. “Many years ago, if you had asked me my opinion, I would have been against this bill. Clearly, that’s not where I am today and the experiences you have in life have a lot to do with the positions you take. You can’t look at somebody and tell what those experiences are.”
Connecticut lawmakers have raised versions of the concept for more than a decade. The resulting public hearings have produced emotional testimony from terminally ill advocates or residents who watched loved ones suffer through prolonged deaths, and opponents from marginalized disability communities who see the concept as endorsing death rather than improving access to quality health care.
This year’s bill includes more safeguards than earlier iterations. It applies to patients at least 21 years-old who are expected to live less than six months. The language also includes a Connecticut residency requirement of at least one year.
Among other things, the proposal requires that patients seeking to participate make two requests to their doctors on days spaced at least 15 days apart. The legislation also requires the requests to be witnessed by at least two non-relative people willing to vouch for the patient’s state of mind and attest that the patient was not being coerced.
When the bill was raised for a hearing in February, Public Health Committee co-chair, Sen. Saud Anwar described those guard rails as compromises that may appear to be barriers to some supporters.
Proponents hope they will address the concerns of some on the Judiciary Committee who have been skeptical of the proposal in the past. Tim Appleton, the state campaign director for Compassion & Choices, said his group was “cautiously optimistic” about where members of the committee would land on the issue.
“We’ve done all of the work that’s necessary to pass legislation in our state. We’ve worked with different stakeholders,” Appleton said. “The bill has been strengthened significantly this year.”