A legislative panel on Wednesday tabled a proposal to allow terminally ill adults in Connecticut to end their own lives with medication, effectively ending the bill’s progress in the Judiciary Committee for the third consecutive year.
Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the committee, announced that the proposal did not have enough support to pass as he raised it for a discussion during a midday meeting after hours of negotiations.
“We have had this bill come to this committee several times. Unfortunately … I will say from the outset, we will not be able to move forward with this bill given the votes today,” he said. “There are moments when you wish you were elegant and articulate. This isn’t one of them.”
Winfield paused several times as he delivered a tearful remembrance of his late mother and the prolonged suffering she experienced near the end of her life.
“This person, who I never would have thought would think this, said to me one time she wished she could die and she meant on her own terms,” he said. “That’s not how it happened. She died in a way I know she didn’t want to die and I certainly didn’t want to see her die like that. So this became an issue that was important to me and it hurts not to be able to get to a point where we can vote on this bill.”
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 to consider legal provisions within the proposal including penalties to prevent abuse of the policy.
Proponents of the proposal have argued that this year’s bill included more safeguards than previous iterations. It required that patients be at least 21 years old, have less than 6 months to live, and be a resident of Connecticut for at least a year. Two doctors would be required to sign off on the patient’s condition and non-relative witnesses would have to attest to their state of mind.
Supporters hoped those guard rails would help to win over skeptical members of the Judiciary Committee. It wasn’t enough. During a brief interview Wednesday, Winfield said earlier discussions indicated there was not even close to enough support among the committee members to pass the bill.
Instead, the panel raised the bill for consideration and allowed various members to express their complicated feelings on the difficult proposal.
“I do not want to put another thing in a lap of someone that is facing life’s difficulties and saying, ‘You also have the option to kill yourself’,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said. “I don’t want anyone to have that option, legally, because I think that is a small step from going down the road to now you’re going to be encouraged, if not overtly, implicitly.”
There were concerns about the proposal on both sides of the aisle.
Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the committee, spoke of his own father’s terminal cancer diagnosis and the difficult decisions it has brought. He pushed back on characterizations that opposition to the bill stemmed largely from the religious affiliation of legislators.
Instead, Stafstrom said his concerns about the proposal grew throughout this session due to court battles in other states, where lawsuits have sought to scrap safeguards similar to those contemplated under the bill.
“There are still some outstanding issues and we are right to be cautious on it,” Stafstrom said.
During a meeting last session, opponents of the proposal employed a legislative tactic to split the joint committee along House and Senate lines. The panel’s senators then took a 5-4 vote to defeat the bill. Stafstrom said some members had been unfairly maligned as a result of that apparently close vote.
“I will say, we have vote counted this in the caucuses. It’s not one or two people,” he said. “There was unfairly, last year, some blame placed on maybe one or two members – how they voted on this bill – that that would have changed the outcome on this committee. It wouldn’t.”
Winfield said he would continue his efforts to pass the legislation in part for his mother.
“The reason why I continue to be a supporter of this bill is because I think it’s one way that I can continue to take care of my mother,” he said. “Somebody said when you continue to talk about people, they never really leave. A variation on that theme is ‘as long as you’re not forgotten, you’re not dead.’ I think that’s why I continue to talk about my mother.”