Legislature could consider ‘right-to-die’ bill

Legislature could consider 'right to die' bill

Connecticut’s legislature may reconsider its ban on physician-assisted suicide if a new bill is introduced in next year’s legislative session.

The so-called “right-to-die” bill, modeled after existing statutes in Oregon and Washington, would allow terminally-ill patients to request prescriptions of lethal medication from doctors. Despite a series of failed advocacy efforts over the past two decades to legalize the practice in the state, legislators said this week that the bill may be considered when Connecticut’s legislature reconvenes in January. But even with some legislative support, momentum to promote such a bill has been slow thus far.

“Most people don’t want to deal with that subject — to some degree you’re talking about whether the government should be involved in the right to die,” said State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a vice-chairman of the judiciary committee whose district includes New Haven. “You bring in discussion questions about religious beliefs, and legislative bodies try to stay away from bills that bring in all the more controversial issues.”

Oregon and Washington have “death with dignity” laws that formally legalize physician-assisted suicide, and Montana has legalized it through legal precedent. Holder-Winfield said that he has been contacted about potential legislation but does not know for sure that the issue will be considered during the upcoming legislative session. Pat O’Neil, press secretary for Connecticut House Republican Leader Larry Cafero, said he is unsure how much energy or time any proponents have devoted to the issue so far.

Similar versions of the bill were previously introduced in 1995 and 1997, but the proposals were rejected both times by the legislature. Most recently, it failed to pass the judiciary committee in 2009.

A Nov. 6 ballot question in Massachusetts that would have approved right-to-die legislation was rejected by a margin of just 2 percent, which O’Neal said may have given advocates in Connecticut the confidence to pursue the bill. However, the fate of such a bill in the state legislature is still dubious, as the issue has not yet re-entered the realm of public debate.

“It’s not an issue that’s been taken up by the Republican caucus and these kind of issues don’t usually have a caucus position,” O’Neal said. “I don’t know what would be the prevailing sentiment for or against this.”

Advocacy for the bill may also be overshadowed by more immediate issues. O’Neal said that he has not heard much about a right-to-die bill, adding that the state legislature has been “immersed in discussing the state’s fiscal issues.”

Connecticut’s Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities has criticized the practice of assisted suicide, arguing that people struggling with disabilities or depression may preemptively opt for suicide.

“During such times people may feel like their lives are not worth living — a view that, unfortunately, can find support in a world that values strength, speed, youthful appearance, hard-driving, fast-paced achievement and material success, while unconsciously devaluing those who are not possessed of those characteristics,” OPAPD Executive Director Jim McGaughey said in a 2011 press release.

Connecticut and 38 other states prohibit assisted suicide by law, and five other states have banned it by common law.

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