HARTFORD – As Connecticut lawmakers began to consider proposed legislation that would make doctor-assisted suicide legal in the state, the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference launched a media campaign to help “people get all the facts before making a rash decision on physician-assisted suicide.”
The campaign, with the rallying cry “Don’t Jump,” urges state legislators and residents against rushing to a decision about physician-assisted suicide without knowing all the facts and weighing the options. The campaign includes print, radio and digital advertising, as well as transit posters. It kicked off on Feb. 20.
“Don’t Jump” also features a new website, www.DontJump.org, which provides the latest facts and figures about physician-assisted suicide, and addresses the benefits of palliative care for people with serious illnesses. In addition, the site offers expert video testimony by medical professionals such as Dr. Joseph Andrews, chief medical officer of the Connecticut Hospice in Branford, and allows visitors to sign an online petition opposing physician-assisted suicide or send emails directly to their elected officials.
“We want people to get all the facts before making a rash decision on physician-assisted suicide,” said Michael Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference. “We are compassionate and care deeply for the needs of patients and their families. We’re telling them that we want them to live out their final days in comfort – and with true compassion and dignity. We urge everyone, especially overwhelmed legislators, to approach this issue very carefully. Or, better yet, decide not to even pursue debate until more is understood about palliative care.”
Physician-assisted suicide occurs when a doctor writes a prescription for a patient who has a terminal illness and is considered to have only six months or less to live. The patient then must have the prescription filled at a local pharmacy and self-administer the drug. A physician or health care professional cannot administer the drug, and patients must consume the medication themselves.
Currently, three states, Oregon (1994), Washington (2008) and Vermont (2013), have statutes providing for physician-assisted suicide.
The goal of the “Don’t Jump” campaign is to educate the public about the viable alternatives, including the ever-advancing practice of palliative care, which is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses.
Many people don’t fully understand that physician-assisted suicide is an irrational, often hastily made decision, said Mr. Culhane. With viable alternatives, such as palliative care, people have options when confronted with a serious illness. Palliative care focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness, as well as improving quality of life for both the patient and the family.
“Palliative care is a team approach to meeting the needs of a patient,” said Dr. Andrews. “The public should be assured that they can avoid suffering with palliative care. The ethics of it is that we will medicate to relieve your suffering and your pain; our aim here is to relieve discomfort and not to kill. We need to move for wider acceptance of palliative care because that is the answer. Good laws tend to encourage decent behavior. Physician-assisted suicide seems to go in the opposite direction.”
Groups including Connecticut Hospice, Connecticut State Medical Society and state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disability also are opposed to the proposed legislation.
In 2013, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appointed Dr. Andrews to the Connecticut Palliative Care Advisory Council. This council was established by law (Public Act 13-55) to analyze the current state of palliative care in Connecticut, and advise the Connecticut Department of Public Health on matters relating to the improvement of palliative care and the quality of life for persons with serious or chronic illnesses.
The council expects to provide findings and recommendations concerning these matters to the commissioner of public health and committees of the legislature this year.