Poster in They Died Waiting exhibit
Kim Hoffman passed away last year and was an advocate for aid-in-dying. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie
Susan Campbell
SUSAN CAMPBELL

On Monday, Tim Appleton set off from South Windsor on the first leg of a soggy walk around the state. He is walking to draw attention to a piece of legislation that’s been inexplicably stalled in Hartford for decades.

Fifteen times in the last 30-some years, proponents have tried to pass a medical-aid-in-dying bill, and 15 times, the measure has failed. Last legislative session was especially heartbreaking. Supporters tailored the bill to one-by-one address opponents’ concerns, but the bill – which included some of the nation’s strictest restrictions for people who want to exercise the option – didn’t make it out of the judiciary committee

This despite emotional testimony from terminally ill people, some of whom rallied their last bit of strength to speak to legislators. To drive home the point, Compassion & Choices, an organization that advocates around end-of-life issues, introduced a portrait gallery starkly titled “They Died Waiting” and featured supporters who died waiting for legislators to pass the law. The gallery hung in the Legislative Office Building.

Why has passing this legislation been so difficult? Medical-aid-in-dying is popular among Connecticut voters. From a 2022 survey, some 75% of state residents support the legislation. And yet every year, powerful (and deep-pocketed) organizations successfully rally against it.

Appleton, senior campaign director for Compassion & Choices Action Network, knew he could not let another legislative session go by. The goal is to walk 300 miles over the next month, or 10 miles a day, he said. The walk was born out of a health push by Appleton, who took up walking, looked at the tracker on his phone, and realized in the time since he’d started exercising, he had essentially walked to Buffalo. Inspired by similar walks by Sen. Chris Murphy, who began trekking around the state a few years ago, Appleton decided to give a bigger purpose to his exercise.

“We’re trying to make sure to go where this issue needs to be heard,” said Appleton. “We are not targeting any particular lawmakers. We are going out to Willington, New London, out to Torrington, Stanford, all the way back up 95.”

Appleton and a couple of helpers have driven the proposed routes, but until he stepped out on Monday, it was anybody’s guess how this would work.

Appleton has been involved in politics for decades, but this campaign feels different. Over time, he said he has befriended the people who come to testify – both the terminally ill and, when they die, the loved ones who step in. Asking them to yet again publicly relive the most difficult days of their lives is tough. In fact, Appleton gets choked up over the effort it takes for people to talk about this in front of what has been, thus far, a legislature that has not been able to pass a bill the state so very much needs.

That’s not every legislator, of course. For the first part of his walk on Monday, Appleton was joined by State Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, and co-chair of the legislature’s public health committee. As a critical care doctor, Anwar originally opposed medical-aid-in-dying initiatives, but then he said he had a long conversation with a patient who did not want to wait for a disease to ravage him. That sent Anwar on a deep dive into the research, and now he’s a proponent of the measure. Appleton was also joined by friends whom he didn’t expect, including supporters who drove up from Westport.

A few people have suggested to Appleton that given the bill’s failure so far, advocates might want to sit out a legislative session, but that means families will continue to face needlessly difficult deaths. People have also warned Appleton that such a sustained walk will be challenging. Already in the first few days, he knows that’s true but his discomfort pales, he said, compared with that of the people for whom he is advocating.

“I’ve got to tell you as difficult and uncomfortable as it might be for me to do this, it pales in comparison to the unnecessary suffering at end of life because legislators have failed to pass legislation to ease that burden,” Appleton said. “People have literally died waiting for this option, and they died with unspeakable suffering because lawmakers have failed to act.”

The walk will include local events, Appleton said, and he intends to listen and explain the legislation in restaurants and coffee shops along the way. You can follow his walk here.

Author of "Frog Hollow: Stories From an American Neighborhood," "Tempest Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker," and "Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl." Find more at susancampbell.substack.com.

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