Conn. assisted suicide bill endangers vulnerable communities, advocates warn

assisted suicide

An assisted suicide bill being considered in Connecticut faces opposition from disability rights activists over what they contend is a lack of safeguards against the abuse of vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or the disabled. 

The legislature in the Nutmeg State is considering a bill that would allow physicians to provide lethal prescriptions to terminally sick adult patients who want to end their lives.  

"No amount of safeguards can counter the social stigma of needing help with intimate care, of having to rely on others for support, of seeing your caregivers are tired, and wondering whether the world would be better off without you," said Cathy Ludlum, who leads Second Thoughts Connecticut, in an interview last week with The Hartford Courant.

"One has to wonder why you’re pushing it through during COVID-19 when constituents have less access to legislators and public hearings."

Second Thoughts Connecticut is a group of disability rights advocates in the state who oppose legalizing assisted suicide. 

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat who co-chairs the state legislature’s public health committee, told the Hartford Courant that the assisted suicide bill will be “one of the priority bills of the public health committee” in 2021. 

According to the newspaper, similar bills introduced in years past would have required patients wanting to receive lethal prescriptions to submit two written requests to an attending physician at least 15 days apart with two other people witnessing each request.

After the requests are filed, a consulting physician would be assigned to examine the patient and confirm the initial physician’s diagnosis. The consulting physician would also need to confirm if the patient is competent enough to make the decision and that it is being done so voluntarily. 

The state legislature has previously considered similar measures in recent years but none passed out of committee. A bill proposed in 2019 received hundreds of public comments from individuals and advocate groups. 

Under the previous legislation, if doctors determine the patient to be suffering from an impaired judgment, they must refer that patient to counseling. Previous bills would have also deemed fraudulent acts associated with the death of a patient as murder.

Steinberg said that the new bill will have “a couple tweaks here and there” but  “nothing of real consequence reflecting some of the learning we’ve had from experience of other states.”

Many who back the right-to-die legislation are not aware of "all the difficulties that arise with implementation," Ludlum said. 

Lisa Blumberg, a Hartford-area attorney, said the proposal is not a “patients’ rights bill” but one that grants doctors "immunity for prescribing lethal drugs to certain patients who ask for them if minimal criteria are met."

“The supposed safeguards only apply to the prescribing of drugs rather than the use of the drugs,” she said. “We don’t know if a patient is competent when he takes them. We don’t know if he is having bad day. We don’t know anything. We cannot afford to just have faith.”

In an op-ed published Wednesday by The CT Mirror, Blumberg argued that the language surrounding the bill is laden with deceptive euphemisms and misguided assumptions about why people opt for assisted suicide.

While the legislation speaks of "aid in dying" and implies that it may increase access to hospice and palliative care, in truth, it only enables doctors to give patients a way out, she contends.

Commenting on the notion that suffering people choose to end their lives because of pain, she explained that relevant figures from Oregon reveal that the main reasons people choose to die are because of "psychosocial factors such as perceived lessening of autonomy, or feeling they are a burden."

"People with disabilities have shown these issues can be addressed by appropriate social supports if the community has the will," she wrote, adding that doctors "cannot say conclusively when a person will die, especially when the measure is months. Moreover, what is terminal illness is capable of interpretation."

"There are many reasons why assisted suicide bills have failed to pass five times in progressive Connecticut,” Blumberg continued. “Bringing up the bill again now should be a non-starter."

Steinberg has rebutted claims made by opponents of the legislation that it would open the door for patients to be coerced by caregivers or relatives. 

“I don’t think the disability community has done a particularly good job of either reading the actual language of the bill nor having evaluated the actual experience of states that have passed such legislation, where I’ve yet to see any real significant pattern of abuse, of coercion,” Steinberg was quoted as saying. 

Physician-assisted suicide is currently legal in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state. 

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