HARTFORD – Opponents of a bill that would allow physicians to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients have said a spokesman for the bill was wrong when he said it was "not suicide."
House Bill 5326, "An Act Concerning Compassionate Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Patients," was introduced on Feb. 21 in the Public Health Committee. It allows a terminally ill patient to request a physician to prescribe lethal drugs, which would be self-administered, if he/she, in the opinion of medical professionals, has less than six months to live. The Public Health Committee had scheduled a public hearing on the proposed bill for March 5, but then delayed it. It has not yet been rescheduled.
Mickey MacIntyre, chief program officer of Compassion & Choices, an out-of-state organization that is fighting for the bill’s passage in Connecticut, was quoted in The New Haven Register Feb. 19 as saying, "It’s not suicide; people are already dying.... In suicide you are actively seeking to take your life when you otherwise could live."
Michael C. Culhane, executive director of the bishops’ advisory group Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference, said, "My response would be that when you’re dealing with a situation at the end of life, I find it amazing that Compassion & Choices can change the definition of this process. It clearly is assisted suicide by a doctor. You can call it aid in dying. You can call it by any other title that Compassion & Choices would like to stick to this bill, but the bottom line is that you cannot get around the fact that it is related to assisted suicide."
Peter Wolfgang, executive director of Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC), said, "Of course, it’s suicide. [They are] trying to redefine words. Suicide is the taking of your own life, period. Look it up in the dictionary. That’s the definition of suicide."
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition, defines suicide as "the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally esp. by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind."
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, second edition, unabridged, defines suicide as "the intentional taking of one’s own life."
The state of a person’s health does not enter into either definition.
Compassion & Choices began as the Hemlock Society in 1980. The name was changed to End of Life Choices in 2003 and to Compassion & Choices in 2005. "I think it’s funny that Compassion & Choices keeps changing the name o make this process appear to be warm and comfortable, when the original organization, the Hemlock Society, promoted euthanasia," Mr. Culhane said. "A duck is a duck is a duck."
Mr. Wolfgang also questioned the validity of a poll commissioned by Compassion & Choices that said, according to the Register article, that 65 percent of Connecticut residents favor such a bill. "We would like to see a poll by some independent organization from UConn or Quinnipiac, and we find it curious, considering what a hot-button issue this is, that there has been no polling by independent entities regarding assisted suicide in Connecticut," he said.
He also criticized Compassion & Choices for urging people to vote multiple times in an online poll posted on the Hartford Courant’s website. "These online polls are not scientific to begin with, but nevertheless we’ve never seen a case before now where an advocacy organization was publicly thanking its supporters on its Facebook [page] for voting more than once," he said.
Last year, a physician-assisted suicide bill was quashed before it was even voted on. Strong opposition to it came from the CCPAC, FIC and an advocacy group for disabled people called Second Thoughts Connecticut.
But this year may be different. According to FIC’s website, Compassion & Choices spent more than $160,000 last year promoting the bill, both before and after it was defeated. An additional $20,000 was spent this past January, FIC reported. A pro-assisted-suicide exhibit paid for by Compassion & Choices was ordered removed from the tunnel connecting the state Capitol to the Legislative Office Building because, FIC says, it was considered "paid advertisement to lobby legislators right on state property."
Mr. Wolfgang will join Father Robert Rousseau, director of pro-life activities, at a March 22 seminar for pastors and parish pro-life representatives at the Franciscan Life Center in Meriden, when the issue of physician-assisted suicide is expected to be discussed.
In an effort to educate people about the proposal and the Church's position on assisted suicide, St. Mary Parish in Branford hosted a forum in January at which Mr. Wolfgang and Cathy Ludlum, a disabled-rights activist from Manchester, spoke. Mr. Culhane also was on hand.
Mr. Culhane said concerned citizens should urge their state legislators to oppose H.B. 5326. He also urged tracking progress of the legislation by following CCPAC’s website, www.ctcatholic.org and the General Assembly's website at http://www.cga.ct.gov.