Aid in dying concept. Man holding hand, giving support and comfort to woman, loved one sick in hospital bed.
Kim Hoffman passed away last year and was an advocate for aid-in-dying. Credit: KieferPix / Shutterstock

Aid in dying advocate Tim Appleton plans to spend the next five weeks crisscrossing Connecticut on foot in a campaign to build public pressure on state lawmakers to pass long-stalled legislation allowing terminally ill adults to end their own lives with medication.

Appleton, campaign director for the Compassion and Choices advocacy group, is set to begin a nearly 300-mile hike on Monday in South Windsor. Covering around 10 miles a day for six days each week, Appleton expects to pass through roughly two-thirds of Connecticut’s legislative districts and convene small informational events along the way.

In an interview Friday, Appleton said he borrowed the idea from U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who last month postponed an annual walking and listening tour due to a COVID diagnosis. 

“Chris Murphy does a similar walk and I thought it would be interesting to take that good idea and utilize it to raise awareness for aid in dying,” Appleton said. “What we need to do to lift up this campaign is to travel pretty much to all four corners of the state.” 

Appleton, who is 57 years old, said he felt prepared for the trek and had been training since mid-July through a stepped-up walking and swimming routine.

“However uncomfortable it is to walk 10 miles a day for 35 days, it pales in comparison to the agony and suffering of those who have literally died waiting for this legislation to pass,” he said. “That’s the message: people are literally dying in agony.”

Although Appleton was confident in his ability to complete the ambitious walk, he and other supporters of the aid in dying bill face an uphill trek in the state legislature, where the long-contemplated proposal seems to be at an impasse in a key committee.

For three consecutive sessions, the legislation has stalled in the Judiciary Committee, where leaders say the proposal lacks adequate support to pass. 

Concerns about the policy are present on both sides of the aisle and come from a number of different communities. Advocates for disabled residents have long voiced fears the bill put the state on a path that would allow residents to be coerced into ending their lives and some faith-based groups have argued it prioritizes suicide over improving end of life care.

When the Judiciary Committee tabled the bill in April, the panel’s co-chair Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said that lawsuits related to similar policies in other states had informed his own apprehensions about the bill. Stafstrom said opposition on the panel ran deeper than one or two members. 

“There are still some outstanding issues and we are right to be cautious on it,” Stafstrom said.

The most recent incarnation of the bill allowed patients over 21 years old with less than six months to live to request a lethal dose of medication to avoid the pain and suffering associated with protracted deaths. 

It included a number of safeguards designed to address concerns voiced by opponents. It included a residency requirement of at least a year and required the patient to make two requests of their doctors, spaced at least 15 days apart. The bill required those 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. 

Although some legislative proponents have speculated the proposal has little chance of clearing the Judiciary Committee barring a major shakeup of the panel’s membership, Appleton said Friday he believed opponents could be swayed if they heard the stories from some of the terminally ill patients and their surviving loved ones, who have long offered testimony during the Public Health Committee’s emotional hearings on the issue. 

“People will vote ‘no’ right up until they don’t,” he said. “The only way we can get to that tipping point is to continue the advocacy on the legislation. Every year this bill is put forward is an opportunity to better educate lawmakers and the public about what this bill is and what it isn’t — what it does and doesn’t do. The only way to get there is to keep proposing the legislation.”