Mar 18, 2014
06:53 AM
Connecticut Today

Connecticut Aid in Dying Bill Draws Emotional Testimony in Hearing

Connecticut Aid in Dying Bill Draws Emotional Testimony in Hearing

Arnold Gold/New Haven Register

Sara Myers of Kent testifies during a public hearing before the Public Health Committee concerning House Bill 5326, an Act Concerning Compassionate Aid in Dying For Terminally Ill Patients, at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford Monday. Myers has ALS and is in favor of the bill.

An emotional public hearing got under way Monday with stories on both sides of the issue of prescribing lethal medication to competent individuals.

House Bill 5326 has become a lightning rod in this year’s General Assembly session for advocates and proponents of assisted suicide, also called aid in dying. Dozens of people filled the hearing room at the Legislative Office Building and spilled into a second room.

Read the testimony presented Monday here

See our story on support for the bill from Dr. Gary Blick of the HIV Equal initiative and his mother, Gloria, 92

The committee scheduled public officials and people with special needs first, so much of the early testimony was from the members of the disabled community who oppose the bill, fearing they will be pressured to take lethal medication because they are too sick or too difficult to care for.

“There is something called ‘ableism,’” said Elizabeth Kolb of West Haven. “Ableism is like racism or sexism” in which people without disabilities believe “their lives are better than people with disabilities” and that rather than continue treatments, a severely disabled person “in some ways would be better off dead.”

Kolb was greeted with applause when she concluded, “Do not pass this bill. It would endanger people with disabilities.” She then told the story of her partner, now deceased, who “almost died many times” but kept fighting.

“Almost every time she was in a crisis” Kolb would be asked by health care workers, “Don’t you think it’s time to let her go?”

The bill would allow a competent person with less than six months to live the ability to get a prescription for lethal medication, with consent of two doctors. Among the questions raised were why doctors need to be involved or why end of life needs to be written into law.

Several opponents talked about a “slippery slope” that could include people with disabilities, because the law now states that aid in dying could not be used simply on the basis of age or disability.

But state Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, questioned the notion of a slippery slope. “We don’t just slip there. We’d actually have to have a change in the law,” he said.

And Attorney General George Jepsen said, “I would point out that, in a recent poll, people with disabilities supported this legislation.”

Jepsen said he supports the bill because, “I feel it is cruel and inhumane to force a competent adult ... to force them to stay alive.” Jepsen sponsored a bill legalizing aid in dying 10 years ago.

He added, “This happens all the time but it happens in the dark. ... Coercion is an issue, but it’s going on now.”

A student at the Yale School of Medicine testified for the bill. Jay Patel described a patient with cutaneous T-cell carcinoma who was in “a constant state of sedation. Slowly his body decimated his skin,” Patel said, and the patient had his feeding tube removed. Patel said the bill “offers empowerment to the patient at the time they are being robbed of it.”

The people with disabilities who testified against the bill included Cathy Ludlum of Manchester, a member of Second Thoughts Connecticut. To her, “it is about disability phobia. Let’s focus instead on good legislation, like Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment.”

One person with a disability who supports the legislation is Barry Williams, a former lobbyist who has Parkinson’s disease. “I’m living with a disease that has taken control of my life,” he said, asking for “one last vestige of control” by being able to choose when he will die.

Judith Passmore of Middletown spoke of her father, who had cancer in his head and throat, resulting in five increasingly painful surgeries. He wanted to die and asked for help but Passmore said it would have been a crime to help him.

Linda Waite-Simpson, a Vermont legislator, said their law was intended “to keep government out of the process as much as possible.” Vermont is one of four states, along with Oregon, Washington and Montana, that allows aid in dying.

See the full story at the New Haven Register online.


Connecticut Aid in Dying Bill Draws Emotional Testimony in Hearing

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