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News

Hopes dim for aid in dying bill to pass this session

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YEHYUN KIM
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CTMIRROR.ORG
Lynda Shannon Bluestein poses at her basement where she often reads about death and writes her memoir. "I advocate for the individual's right to end their suffering to know that I have the peace of mind that when my cancer is so bad at the end, it won't have to be interminable," Bluestein said. "I can choose the day that I go to sleep, never to wake up again."

Supporters of a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to access a lethal dose of medication are making a last-minute push to get the proposal to the Senate floor for a vote, but hopes are dimming for its passage this year.

The so-called aid in dying bill was voted out of the Public Health Committee on March 4 — just three weeks into the legislative session. It has been in limbo ever since.

Now, Democrats on the Senate screening committee have decided it should also be considered by the Judiciary Committee before it receives a vote in their chamber. The measure did not advance beyond the Judiciary Committee last year.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who lead the screening committee, did not return calls seeking comment on the likelihood of a vote in their chamber.

Instead, they issued a joint statement: “The Senate screening committee will refer Senate Bill 88, An Act Concerning Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Patients, to the Judiciary Committee for review as was done with a similar bill from last year. The bill deals with the issue of legal liability and/or exemptions from such liability for physicians and with actions regarding the competency of a person to make a choice to end his or her life thus falling within the cognizance of the Judiciary Committee.”

For those who have championed the bill, this late-session move is dispiriting.

“The frustrating part is this should pass,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a co-chair of the Public Health Committee and longtime backer of the proposal. “And instead we have people who are able to block legislation because of their personal beliefs. That’s the story.”

A cohort of legislators on the Judiciary Committee who are in favor of the bill are making a late push to try to win enough support from their peers to advance the measure. Despite the limited time left, they remain optimistic the proposal could make its way to the Senate.

“We are having very meaningful conversations with all of the people,” said Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, a proponent of the bill who is on the Judiciary Committee. “This is a life and death issue, and in many ways, an uncomfortable versus relatively comfortable death for constituents. I’m hoping that each and every legislator listens to the people they represent.”

To qualify for access to life-ending medication under the bill, patients with a terminal illness must submit two written requests to their attending physician, the second at least 15 days after the first. Each written request has to be witnessed by two people who are not immediate family members or entitled to a portion of an estate at the time of a person’s death.

Aid in dying is legal in Oregon, Washington state, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, New Mexico and the District of Columbia.

The legislation has been raised more than a dozen times in Connecticut. It advanced beyond the Public Health Committee for the first time in 2021.

Despite early momentum this year, the bill still has not reached the Senate floor with less than four weeks to go in the session. As with any measure that is complex and divisive, the aid in dying proposal probably would need to be called no later than the final week of April, legislative leaders said, even though the session doesn’t end until May 4. That leaves only about three weeks to move the bill forward.

“Any large bill that’s going to take 12 to 16 hours to debate has to be actionable by April 30,” House Speaker Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, said. “No large bill is going to pass going into that last week, traditionally, because we don’t control the clock. The Republicans can run it out, or members who hate the bill can run it out.”

Ritter said that if the bill were to clear the Senate, it likely would have bipartisan support in the House.

“We haven’t vote counted … but it has Republican support, so that often helps,” he said. “If it came through the Senate and we caucused it and we had the votes, I would call the bill.”

Tim Appleton, senior campaign director with Compassion and Choices, which supports the measure, emphasized the urgency of passage. There are people with terminal illnesses who will run out of time waiting for the option until next year or later, he said.

“For them, there is no next year,” Appleton said. “Next year is a death sentence of immeasurable suffering. There is still time to get this bill before the full Senate and the House of Representatives, and we are doing everything we can to communicate with people who can help us.”

With public attitudes shifting in favor of aid in dying, Steinberg said he hopes government will catch up. Polling by Compassion and Choices showed 75% of Connecticut residents surveyed support the proposal. The organization polled 550 “likely 2022 general election voters.”

The Connecticut State Medical Society in recent years has ended its opposition to the bill.

“A while ago, the vast majority of people who testified were dead set against it. Lately, it’s been almost reverse,” Steinberg said. “We’ve done a poll of Connecticut citizens, they want this to happen. It’s government that is out of step with the people.”