End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Choice Advocates Won’t Back Downby Sonja

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by Compassion & Choices staff
April 4, 2013

Legislative action in Connecticut and Montana reached a fever pitch in March, with advocates demonstrating in words and actions the power of the end-of-life choice movement. Impassioned supporters in both states provided a forceful collective voice and a formidable match for our dogmatic opponents.

Our Connecticut team brought the aid-in-dying bill to the brink of an important legislative hurdle, mustering the votes necessary to move HB 6645, “An Act Concerning Compassionate Aid in Dying,” through the Public Health Committee. But despite majority support from the public and the committee members, the threat of a filibuster halted the bill’s progress … for this year.  Compassion & Choices applauds the committee members who supported the bill and lawmakers’ commitment to hear the public debate on this vital issue moving. We will work with our dedicated advocates for the remainder of the year to be in a strong position at the start of next year’s legislative session to advance this important bill.

Our advocates were extraordinary this legislative session. Sixty supporters arrived by bus, car and train on March 20 to fill the Capitol in Hartford for what turned out to be a marathon 15-hour hearing before the Joint Public Health Committee. Enthusiasm for held all the way through our final supporter’s testimony at 1:30 a.m.! Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee observed, “In my 22 years of legislative work, this hearing was the most grueling – and the most inspiring – I have ever witnessed. Compassion & Choices volunteers and supporters showed themselves to be as passionate, judicious, intelligent and dedicated as citizens can ever be.”

Following the hearing, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen delivered a letter strongly in favor of the bill to committee members. Local and national media are giving the issue thorough coverage, with many unable to refrain from agreeing the bill should pass. “What benefit do we get from keeping something like this illegal except to rob human beings of their own agency?” pressed an editorial in the University of Connecticut Daily Campus. Look for the latest developments on our Connecticut page.

Montana aid-in-dying opponents faced a setback when HB 505, an extreme bill that would end the state’s legal practice of aid in dying by charging physicians who provide it with a felony, failed to clear the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 2. Though opponents may try procedural maneuvers to advance the bill, we are encouraged that backers failed to move the bill through committee. Stopping this bill is necessary to protect the patient – and physician – rights Compassion & Choices helped secure through the Montana Supreme Court in 2009.

The bill, dubbed the Physician Imprisonment Act of 2013, may have been stalled by the show of force from aid-in-dying proponents at a packed hearing on March 27. The committee heard testimony from a strong turnout of Compassion & Choices supporters who drove through miles of snow to denounce HB505. Dr. Eric Kress of Missoula made the journey to Helena to speak out against this bill, which would send him to prison for up to 30 years with $150,000 in fines for providing aid in dying to three of his patients: “My suffering patients and families of those who suffer are grateful to me. All of us are grateful that our government, through the Baxter decision, has not been controlling our deeply personal decisions at the end of life.” Dr. Kress is helping to ensure lawmakers hear from their constituents. He is voicing his opposition in a statewide Compassion and Choices Montana radio campaign as well as writing opinion-editorials for Montana papers.

Dozens more doctors recently came on board to defeat “The Physician Imprisonment Act of 2013.” And the Great Falls Tribune, arguably Montana’s most influential paper, editorialized strongly against HB 505 in Death Legislation Goes Too Far: “This is an overly broad provision that could thrust the state of Montana’s prosecutors into the midst of personal decisions of family members, friends, terminally ill patients and their medical people advising them at a very difficult time.” To find out the latest on this legislation or how you can help stop it, visit our Web site’s Montana page.

Wherever you are in the nation, our fight to either expand or protect your freedom to make personal end-of-life decisions wages on. We need the dedication and involvement of supporters like you to keep our movement booming. Please visit your state page on our Web site to see all the ways you can help!