Aid in dying supporters, opponents testify in emotionally-charged hearing on Connecticut bill
More than a hundred people signed up to testify Wednesday in a virtual public hearing on a bill that would legalize medical aid in dying in Connecticut.
Absent from this year’s hearing was Glastonbury resident Kim Hoffman, a vocal supporter of past attempts to pass a law that would allow terminally ill residents to get a prescription for a lethal combination of medications that they could take to end their own lives.
Hoffman died Jan. 18 at 59 years old after an eight-and-a-half-year battle with ovarian cancer.
“Kim was a fierce communicator on this topic,” Herbert Hoffman said of his daughter to members of the General Assembly’s public health committee.
Hoffman, who also lived in Glastonbury before moving in with his son in California, was recently diagnosed himself with a terminal stage of gastric carcinoma. He just completed his application for aid in dying medication under California’s End of Life Option Act, which took effect in 2016.
“My primary desire to access medical aid in dying is not depression. I am not suicidal,” he said. “I have seen the devastating progression of cancer up close and I am very aware of what is ahead of me.”
Legislators have drafted aid in dying legislation in Connecticut multiple times in the last three decades, garnering emotional and passionate testimony from supporters and opponents alike. There was minimal progress until last year, when a bill was passed out of committee for the first time.
Aid in dying advocates said they hope to build off that momentum and get legislation onto the governor’s desk this time around while still facing fierce opposition from some medical professionals, faith leaders and disability rights activists.
“An aid in dying law, even with one that leaves out so many people who will not qualify, is a long needed, tiny step toward civilization,” said Tessa Marquis, a Milford resident.
Marquis, who testified in support of this year’s bill, said she was frustrated that Connecticut has not yet passed an aid in dying law. Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia have made it legal.
“Do we need to keep showing you photos of our dead and dying relatives and friends? Haven’t you seen enough of that through COVID?” Marquis asked committee members. “Do you want to hear the polling numbers again? Real people in our state want this option.”
For Connecticut residents to access aid in dying medication, they would need to have a terminal diagnosis of six months or less to live and be competent, or “sound of mind” when pursuing a prescription.
They would need to complete a list of other steps, which include submitting two written requests for the lethal medication at least 15 days apart, each requiring two witnesses, and be subject to physician evaluation.
Medical providers who may prescribe the aid in dying medication are also encouraged to provide information and counseling on alternative options to end of life care, such as palliative care and hospice.
Bill co-sponsors said they’ve included a number of safeguards in the bill, many adopted from aid in dying laws in other states, to prevent abuse and provide protection to any vulnerable groups of people.
But disability rights activist Cathy Ludlum remained opposed to the bill, and considers aid in dying a form of suicide, which has been decriminalized in nearly all states.
“The question at hand is not whether people can take their own lives. Suicide is not illegal,” she said. “The question is, how many other struggling people will follow their lead, pressured by society and assisted by the health care system, to die?”
Ludlum is a leading member of the Second Thoughts Connecticut grassroots organization and lives with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease. She has testified against similar aid in dying legislation for several years.
Ludlum said she fears how this law would be perceived by residents living with disabilities, particularly anyone who requires lifetime care and whose quality of life may be suffering when that care falls short.
“The tighter things get in terms of supports, the more pressure there is on those of us who might perceive ourselves as inconvenient to the people around us and to the society,” she said.
Fellow disability activist Elaine Kolb, a West Haven resident, echoed those concerns in her testimony against the proposed legislation.
She also admonished the public health committee for focusing on aid in dying initiatives at a time when gaps in services for vulnerable residents have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve had a whole bunch of people die, and a lot of them were fighting for life and some of them were fighting for services they qualified for, but they were on a waiting list and they died,” she yelled. “Now that’s what the public health committee should be dealing with.”
The current aid in dying legislation would need majority approval in the public health committee before going to the Connecticut House of Representatives and Senate for consideration.