Tim Appleton
Tim Appleton, campaign director for the Compassion and Choices advocacy group Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Partway through his 300-mile trek across Connecticut, aid in dying advocate Tim Appleton stopped Thursday at the state Capitol building where he and legislative allies discussed plans to advance a long-stalled proposal to allow terminally ill patients to end their own lives. 

Appleton, campaign director for the Compassion and Choices advocacy group, began a five-week walk across the state in late September with the goal of rallying support for legislation that would give patients with six months or less to live an option to end their own lives with the assistance of doctor-prescribed medication. 

He made a pit stop for a press conference Thursday afternoon outside the Capitol building. Appleton told reporters that, despite some rainy days, he was taken aback by the beauty of Connecticut as he traversed around 100 miles of the roadways, talking to residents along the way.

“You walk into a diner in Norwich, all drenched and shaking off all this rain gear, it starts a conversation with a server,” he said. “What I realize is, aid in dying is not a controversial issue outside of here [the Capitol]. People in the communities that I walked are genuinely supportive.”

However, the support Appleton described in the community has not translated to success in the legislature. For three consecutive sessions, the legislation has stalled in the Judiciary Committee, where leaders say the proposal lacks adequate support to pass. 

On Thursday, the co-chairs of the legislature’s committee of cognizance, the Public Health Committee, expressed their support but said they were not yet sure whether they would raise the bill again during next year’s short session. 

The public health panel has raised and advanced the bill for the past three sessions only to see it stall in the Judiciary Committee. The public health chairs — Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, and Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield — said they wanted to find a way to inspire more support among members of the Judiciary Committee.

“Either maybe the bill would start from the Judiciary, so that they would have the opportunity to get to know each and every one of you [supporters] and also listen to your stories,” Anwar said. “That would be the way to approach this because Public Health has weighed in on this.”

When the legislation stalled before the Judiciary Committee earlier this year, its leaders said the panel was deeply divided on the concept and one of its co-chairs, Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said that caution was appropriate given litigation in other states with similar policies.

The proposal also has staunch opponents including advocates for disabled residents and some faith-based organizations. On Thursday, one of those groups, the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference, issued a press release saying the concept abandoned terminal patients and opened the door to devaluing human life. 

“At a time when suicide rates are at record highs, where our mental health needs require action and love, it is sad that some elected leaders continue to support state sponsored suicide. Chris Healy, the group’s executive director, said. “The answer is to improve end-of-life care in a way that shows true compassion and values every life that God has created.”

The proponents gathered Thursday disagreed, including Luther Weeks, a veteran voting rights advocate, who said he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Though Weeks said he would likely survive the cancer for nine to 14 years, he believed Connecticut should adopt the aid in dying policy. 

“I was born in Connecticut. My ancestors go back to the founding of Connecticut. I’d like the option to die here, the way I’d like to die, with my relatives around me,” Weeks said. “Not in the middle of the night in terrible pain.”