One certainty of life in Connecticut each New Year is the convening of our General Assembly, and this year is no exception. It is anticipated that our 187 legislators and 28 committees will sponsor more than 2,000 bills this session. During the 2013 session the state will face issues relating to the state budget and its deficit, gun control, drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants and the Earned Income Tax Credit, among many others.
One issue that concerns the state’s Catholic bishops greatly is a proposed bill introduced by Senator Edward Meyer (D-12) entitled An Act Concerning Physician-Assisted Suicide. The stated purpose of this bill is to amend the Connecticut statutes "to permit a competent person who is suffering from a terminal illness to take his or her own life through the self-administration of prescribed medication."
This proposal clearly is bad public policy and it is fraught with negative consequences. An affront to the teachings of the Church, it is also publicly opposed by many nonreligious organizations representing the medical, hospice, elderly and disability communities. Attempts by the proponents of this bill to characterize opponents of it as "religious" would be a clear effort to detract from the many serious problems related to the legislation of assisted suicide.
It must be noted that this legislation has been rejected more than 100 times in state after state. Only two states, Oregon and Washington, have statutes providing for assisted suicide. In every effort, a national organization known as Compassion and Choices has been the primary promoter of the legislation. The promotion of this concept in Connecticut also is not being championed by a local group; it is clearly being advanced by this national entity. Compassion and Choices has already retained a lobbying firm in Connecticut to garner support for this issue among members of the judiciary committee.
Compassion and Choices recently worked in Massachusetts to legalize assisted suicide there as a referendum question on Nov. 6, 2012, and the people of that state rejected the measure. That was the latest defeat for Compassion and Choices; even some political progressives in Massachusetts, including the widow of Senator Ted Kennedy, opposed the adoption of the legislation.
The Connecticut legislature should also reject this proposal based on the public policy it established in 2012 when the repeal of the death penalty was debated. One of the strongest arguments made in an effort to abolish capital punishment was that if just one innocent person could be saved, the repeal would be justified.
President Obama also promoted this opinion when he stated, in his White House remarks on gun violence on Jan. 16, that "… if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try…"
Apply this logic to Senator Meyer’s proposed bill.
There are many examples of terminally ill people who, at the end of life, have gone into remission and subsequently lived a long life. If one life can be saved, we are obliged to try. We as a society must emphasize our obligation to preserve even one life and our public policy must reflect this concept.
The history of Compassion and Choices is also worth noting. From its inception as the Hemlock Society in 1980, this organization has tried to find a viable message to promote its objectives. Public relations firms and strategists have attempted for more than 20 years to find the ideal wording to advance its cause without success. After two name changes, Compassion and Choices emerged in 2005 and has taken the lead of promoting the cause of "death with dignity." We should not be fooled.
With all the pressing issues facing this year’s General Assembly, our lawmakers should focus their limited time and energy on issues more dear to the hearts and minds – and the needs – of the people of Connecticut. Like, for example, the deficit?
Michael C. Culhane is the executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Confererence.