HARTFORD – For the third year in a row, a bill that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide has received a coup de grace by dying in committee.
House Bill 7015, An Act Concerning Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Patients, just didn’t have the support for the Judiciary Committee to release it to the Connecticut House of Representatives for a floor vote, said Michael C. Culhane, executive director of Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference, a lobbying group for Connecticut Catholic bishops.
“I can tell you that I was thrilled when I heard the news that the Judiciary Committee was not going to deal with the bill regarding physician-assisted suicide,” Mr. Culhane said. “But I was not surprised, because when the language of the bill came out, I did a head count and didn’t think they had the votes.”
He said he visited every member of the Judiciary Committee, proponents and opponents, and got the sense that the bill would fail. “So we argued, ‘Why deal with a bill that would take a lot of time and debate?’” he said.
He said he argued that there is already a viable choice for terminally ill patients, and that choice is palliative care.
“The Advisory Council of Palliative Care, which was established in 2013, was still in the process ... of doing their research,” he said. He said he argued in his public testimony that it would be wise to wait and see what that council advised.
He said the CCPAC remains vigilant even after this victory. “We’re absolutely ready to deal with this issue again,” he said. “I would expect this legislation to return as a proposal.”
Weeks after the bill was proposed, the CCPAC launched a media campaign with the motto “Don’t Jump” that included a website (dontjump.org) to educate the public about the issue.
The website listed a number of organizations that oppose physician-assisted suicide, including the American College of Physicians, American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, Center for Hospice Care and Connecticut Council of Developmental Disabilities, to name a few.
Maggie Karner of Bristol, whose YouTube video explaining her stance against assisted suicide has had more than 420,000 views, was pleased by the bill’s failure. She has been an outspoken critic of the proposal.
“It was a hard-earned victory, and it feels wonderful to defeat the initiative three years in a row and protect the citizens of Connecticut,” she said. “I was thrilled, for truth won.”
Mrs. Karner, 51, has the same form of aggressive brain cancer as did Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old from Oregon who ended her life last November under her state’s doctor-assisted suicide law.
Dr. John Andrews, former medical director of the Connecticut Hospice in Branford, spoke against assisted suicide in a video on the Don’t Jump website.
“I was very happy to hear that the bill died in committee,” he said, after the outcome was announced.
He credited the Judiciary Committee for its diligence during the public hearing.
“I was really quite impressed with the way that members of the Judiciary Committee really listened to arguments very thoughtfully,” he said. “They really deliberated,” he observed, noting that they remained in the committee room from 10 in the morning to almost 8 at night.
“I was happy to see that they were diligent,” he continued. “I thought that members of the committee from both parties were extraordinarily committed to figuring out what they really wanted to do with this bill; and, from my point of view, I think the conclusions they reached were correct and based on the best evidence presented by several people. It was nice to see the legislature actually working its way to a good conclusion.”
Matthew Kenney, vice president for mission and ethics at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, also was happy to see the proposal’s demise.
“I’m glad that the legislature recognized the shortcomings of the bill,” he said. “I hope it will raise the need for new resources aimed at providing better care at the end of life, such as education around hospice and the need for expanded Medicare coverage to provide needed services.”