A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with prescription medication will advance out of the Public Health Committee on Friday, though not everyone was on board with the legislation.
SB 1076 would allow terminally ill adults with less than six months left to live to fill prescriptions they would then use to self-administer a lethal dose. The bill would require a terminal diagnosis from a primary physician and a confirmation of the patient’s consent from a secondary physician. The patient would also have to attend at least one counseling session to ensure they are acting in sound mind. Additionally, the bill would require two witnesses to the written request and places restrictions on who can serve as a witness, and ensures that only the patient themselves can make the request.
Doctors who would prefer to opt out of the program would be allowed to do so, as the bill prohibits healthcare facilities from requiring that doctors participate, and it does include provisions to punish anyone acting in bad faith.
Similar bills have been brought or enacted in several other U.S. states over the last decade but they are not without controversy. Connecticut has attempted to pass similar legislation on multiple occasions.
Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria (R- Seymour) said that she would prefer to take the bill into a task force to continue the conversation addressing the processes involved, but highlighted one particular concern she still had with the legislation.
“I do struggle, also, with this in not having a medical professional with them when they take these meds,” she said. “We know that we’re telling people that they should have someone with them, it’s a good idea, it’s not mandatory, they don’t have to, and I’ve said before, we afford our pets the ability to die with their family and a medical professional with them, and even prisoners on death row will have a medical professional with them. I think that that would make this bill much better to know that there was a medical professional with them, in case, God forbid, something happened, that they wouldn’t have to suffer any longer in this process.”
Sen. Heather Somers (R-Groton) noted that the bill had improved from previous years, particularly in the addition of safeguards but said that she too would prefer more discussion with the medical community. Both Sen. Somers and Rep. Klarides-Ditria expressed a desire to involve the Connecticut State Medical Society more directly, both noting that the organization has remained neutral in the debate.
Sen. Somers argued that there should be additional definitions included in the bill to outline specifically who qualifies as an attending physician or consulting physician. Additionally, she cited concerns about compliance.
“There is nothing in this bill that talks about how we ensure compliance. How do we ensure that someone does go every 30 days to a follow-up appointment with a physician?” she questions, adding, “I am also concerned about six months, I think it should be a much shorter amount of time.”
Sen. Somers also echoed Rep. Klarides-Ditria’s concerns about what might happen if the medication does not do its job and there is no physician on hand, as well as worries over how a patient will be deemed competent to make the request.
Proponents of the bill, including Rep. Christine Palm (D-Chester), say that Aid in Dying legislation is about ending suffering. Rep. Palm recalled a very personal experience from when she was a child when her terminally ill grandfather asked her to find a way to end his pain. She had no power to do so then but said that decades later she wants to use her vote to do something about it now.
“To me, allowing suffering is tantamount to inflicting it,” she said.
“The point of this is a kindness at the end of life,” said Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo. “We are dealing with having the strictest proposal in the country. We’re looking at the fact that there are zero reported cases of coercion. There has never been a report of the meds failing. These are things that we can debunk and we can sit here with data and talk about that but I would rather focus on the end-of-life conversations that we have had with those for whom this has been a successful final solution.”
For some proponents, the bill before them was too restrictive, but was the best attempt so far at addressing concerns that had been brought up year after year.
“We have many states that have practiced this for years. We have one state that has done it for over 20 years,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport) who says he has heard versions of this bill for almost a decade. “So if that’s any consolation to you, a lot of the things that we’re speculating about or worried about simply haven’t happened with laws in other states that are not as restrictive as what we have here in the state of Connecticut. So I just want to caution ourselves against finding ourselves in the circumstance whereby we will never achieve the perfect bill that will address every possible eventuality. But this bill, stronger than any other law in the nation, does a serious job of addressing the likely potential concerns.”
Voting on the bill remains open until 5pm Friday, since about seven members were not present to vote during the meeting. With 22 votes in favor, however, the bill will pass and head to the General Assembly regardless of how those remaining votes come in.