In the 20 years since the Supreme Court ruled that assisted suicide is not a constitutional right and that states may prohibit it, its proponents have succeeded in legalizing it in six states. They’ve made inroads, one state at a time, targeting and timing legislative initiatives with patience, politics and public relations.
“Aid in dying” has been legalized in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Montana and, most recently, Colorado.
In Connecticut, physician-assisted suicide has been defeated three times since 2013, but has been introduced again this year in the General Assembly.
The posture of its well-funded advocate group, Compassion & Choices, the former Hemlock Society, is one of “push, push, push,” said Michael C. Culhane, director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference.
Mr. Culhane acknowledged that physician-assisted suicide is becoming increasingly popular and accepted nationally and globally.
But, he said, “We can’t succumb to the threat of those arguing for the right to ‘die with dignity,’ as they define it.”
The purpose of the Connecticut Catholic Conference is to provide a vehicle for speaking with a united voice and for acting with joint effort and resources in promoting the welfare of the Church and its members, as well as the common good of all citizens of the state.
The bishops believe, said Mr. Culhane, that the answer to assisted suicide is palliative care, an interdisciplinary approach to managing health care at the end of life.
“So we should leave this earth in God’s good care and in God’s good time, on his schedule, not ours. It’s that type of care which the Church believes is in the best interest of the individual,” he said.
Connecticut legislators have thus far upheld this human value, recognizing assisted suicide as a “slippery slope” fraught with opportunity for mistakes in use and abuse, he said.
Not only has the Church opposed legalization of assisted suicide, but the medical, nursing, hospice, elderly and disability communities have supported interfaith arguments against the practice consistently, attracting hundreds of citizens to the Capitol to rallies and hearings year after year.
Mr. Culhane has fought assisted suicide and championed palliative care for many years. He is familiar with the establishment and objectives of the Palliative Care Advisory Council, formed in 2013 to advise the General Assembly on palliative care.
Throughout his involvement with the council, Mr. Culhane said, he has never heard any “inkling” of support for assisted suicide.
Joseph F. Andrews Jr., a physician, was the president of the 13-member Palliative Care Advisory Council until his year-long gubernatorial appointment expired recently. After many years of working as the medical director of The Connecticut Hospice in Branford, Dr. Andrews currently is affiliated with St. Vincent’s Family Health Center in Bridgeport.
He said proponents of physician-assisted suicide eviscerate the Hippocratic Oath, replacing it with “something that says I’ll take care of everybody’s needs. I won’t behave badly with patients and families.”
“Some of the medical societies, especially in Canada and Europe,” said Dr. Andrews, “are taking the position that you could be sanctioned or disciplined for not going along with these so-called rights, that if you don’t want to do an abortion or facilitate an abortion or do an assisted suicide, your obligation is to find a colleague who will do it. And if you don’t do that, then you’re held accountable for the standard of care issues.
“To me,” he continued, “a medical society that embodies that is totally wrong. It’s a gross violation of individual conscience and I would not agree to be bound by that. So then they would have to take my license away.
“My attitude, as a palliative care physician, is if a patient asks me for a means of ending their life, I have to review what I have done or not done for this patient. Because if I’m doing my job properly, controlling pain and dealing with social issues, and the whole team is doing their job, the idea of suicide should not come in.”
When he testified before the General Assembly in 2015, Dr. Andrews recalled, he fielded legislators’ questions for several hours, during which he asked them to imagine a dying man whose assets were being vied for by four sets of kids and four different wives. ‘Who’s going to decide when it’s time for him to die?’” he posited.
“Don’t do this,” he implored them.
He said he will do the same again, whenever he need