Supporters of legislation that would allow terminally ill, mentally competent patients the right to choose aid in dying said today they welcome public debate of end-of-life issues. They urged lawmakers to pass legislation raised by the Public Health Committee in January.
Barbara Coombs Lee, President of Compassion & Choices, was joined today at a press conference by legislators, clergy members, doctors and nurses, and relatives of patients who have been faced with difficult end-of-life decisions. Coombs Lee said with more than a dozen years of experience with aid-in-dying laws — in Oregon, Washington and now Montana — there is proof that the laws work as intended, with none of the problems opponents have predicted.
“Doctors, patients, clergy, and the majority of Connecticut residents support the right of patients to make end-of-life decisions without government interference,” Coombs Lee said. “Critics raise fears of abuse or coercion but evidence and experience do not support these fears. Connecticut’s residents should enjoy freedom both in how to live and, when their time comes, how to die.”
The Connecticut legislature has never raised or held a public hearing on an aid-in-dying proposal, supporters noted.
“I’m really pleased the Public Health Committee has chosen to take up this bill and hope it will lead to a full and compassionate discussion of the rights of individuals,” Rep. Betsy Ritter (D-Waterford, Montville) said. “The issue here is all about choice. Patients have to be able to make their own decisions. It’s their right and no one else’s.
Many dying patients suffer, even with the best care and pain management. Others fear their pain will become unbearable. Supporters of Connecticut’s legislation say people should have a full range of end-of-life choices, including the right to request and obtain life-ending medication.
Experience, in states with explicit permission for aid in dying, show that very few patients actually request, and even fewer actually self-administer, medication – only 673 people in Oregon have done so in 15 years since the law’s passage. But thousands more take comfort just in knowing the option is available, according to Coombs Lee, who noted that end-of-life care has actually improved under the Oregon law.
“Simply knowing that they can escape intolerable suffering at the end of life brings peace of mind,” Coombs Lee said.
The General Assembly’s Public Health Committee raised AAC Compassionate Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Patients in January, and will hold a public hearing on the bill.
The bill would be based on Oregon and Washington state statutes, and would allow a terminally ill person with a diagnosis of less than six months to live, who is deemed mentally and psychologically competent, to get a prescription that can be self-administered for a humane and dignified death.
The legislation would include protections to ensure that patients are not coerced or influenced in their decision-making.