Yale Daily News

Medical aid-in-dying was a hot-button issue in Connecticut’s last legislative session. A recent forum discussed the policy, with an eye toward 2024. 

On Nov. 14, the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics hosted a community forum in Marsh Lecture Hall and on Zoom to discuss Connecticut’s Bill on medical aid-in-dying, or MAID. Over 260 people attended in person or on Zoom. Panelists Stephen Latham, director of Yale’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, Thaddeus Pope, bioethicist and professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law and Jules Good, a disability justice activist and policy analyst, provided insight about MAID from various angles including national trends, international and ethical trends and opposition. 

After the event, the News spoke with Joan Cavanagh, an advocate against MAID, who criticized the panel for its lack of viewpoint diversity. 

The forum opened with remarks from Connecticut State Representative Josh Elliot who emphasized the importance of listening to advocates from every side of the issue. 

“What we should be getting from this process is the strongest bill possible that protects people who are at deficits within the medical community, but also supports people who are looking to ensure that they have self-determination when it comes to their bodily autonomy,” Elliot said. 

Eliot was one of the lead sponsors during the 2023 Connecticut General Assembly supporting a bill that would have legalized MAID in Connecticut if passed. This bill made it farther than ever before in the House, advancing out of the Public Health Committee, but failed to advance out of the Judiciary Committee

Each speaker on the panel had 15 minutes to outline their positions on MAID, followed by a question and answer section with questions from the audience. 

The first speaker, Thaddeus Pope, a law professor and bioethicist began by providing listeners with general data about MAID. 

In the failed Connecticut legislation, in order to qualify for MAID, the patient would have to be 21 years old, have decisional capacity and be diagnosed with a terminal illness. The patient also would have to be the one to administer the lethal prescription. 

Patients would have to pass multiple rounds of screening with a prescribing physician, a consulting and a mental health physician. Even after going through this meticulous process, Pope said, an estimated third of the patients would ultimately choose not to take the lethal prescriptions. 

Advocates for MAID argue that it provides “death with dignity,” Pope explained. With this logic, he explained, as the burden of terminally ill patients’ lives outweighs the benefits, they want to avoid excessive suffering by giving patients the agency to control the timing and manner of their deaths. 

Jules Good, a disabled activist and policy analyst, joined over Zoom with an opposing viewpoint. Good described the dangers of instituting MAID, which they call assisted suicide. 

“In a healthcare system with so many clear barriers for marginalized peoples, a policy of assisted suicide is inherently dangerous,” Good said. “Not being able to afford care, not being able to access care, should not be reasons that people are choosing to end their lives prematurely.” 

Good said they believe that normalizing assisted suicide allows a broken healthcare system to “escape culpability for its systemic failures” leading to many people ending their lives unnecessarily. 

Latham said he prefers the term physician-assisted suicide and echoed many concerns that Good raised about the practice. He began by comparing Belgium and the Netherlands’ standard for MAID of irremediable suffering to the proposed Connecticut bill’s stricter standard of being terminally ill — meaning that person is already dying. 

Latham also addressed common concerns applicable to Connecticut that he said many people had regarding the passing of MAID in Oregon, the first state to legalize the practice. He said that many people worried that MAID would incentivize the healthcare system to provide low-quality care to people with low income in Oregon, thereby eliminating “inconvenient patients.” 

“Exactly the opposite happened,” Lantham said. “The people that used these programs were overwhelmingly insured, white and educated.” 

After the panelists spoke for their allotted 15 minutes, organizer Lori Bruce facilitated a Q&A session for panelists to answer questions from the live and online audiences. Questions ranged from comparing MAID to other end-of-life options such as euthanasia and palliative sedation to concerns about potential loopholes or issues the Connecticut bill may pose. 

After the forum ended, Brittany Fleck, an in-person attendee, told the News she was surprised by the level of debate.  

“I was not expecting it [the forum] to be political at all,” Fleck said. She added that the discussion was “riveting” but that she didn’t expect it to be “as intense.” 

Joan Cavanagh, a member of Progressives Against Medical Assisted Suicide, said that she was disappointed the forum had two speakers in support of MAID and only one opposed. 

She shared emails with the News showing that Bruce initially agreed to have one speaker from Second Thoughts CT and one from Progressives Against Medical Assisted Suicide on the panel as well but withdrew the offer on Oct. 11. 

“At that point, it became even clearer that this was mainly a discussion to talk about how to make the bill “better” or more “acceptable” and thus more likely to pass, not the objective educational forum that was being claimed,” Cavanaugh told the News. 

When asked about the viewpoints of the forum’s speakers, Bruce disagreed with the characterization of the event as pro-MAID. She said the three speakers were chosen so that Pope could speak on national trends, Latham on international trends and ethics and Good as an opposition figure.

Panelists demonstrated open-mindedness to one another’s line of thinking. For instance, all panelists agreed that some kind of training — credentials, certification requirements or a training program — would help ensure the safe use of MAID. 

In 1994, Oregon approved Measure 16, a Death with Dignity Act ballot initiative, becoming the first U.S. state to legalize medical aid-in-dying.

Erin Hu covers the Yale-New Haven Health System for the SciTech desk. Originally from Brookfield, Wisconsin, she is a first-year in Branford College majoring in neuroscience and global affairs.