End-of-Life Choice, Death with Dignity, Palliative Care and Counseling

We Won’t Back Downby Sonja

Dr. Charlie Hamlin and Jay Patel at the Connecticut Capitol

Popular support doesn’t always translate into political will – at least immediately. So despite a heroic effort in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, we advanced bills in both states but did not get them out of committee this year.

Lawmakers on the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health opted to further study the aid-in-dying bill, which means it won’t be considered until the 2015 session.

In the lead-up to legislative action, the C&C Massachusetts team focused on educating lawmakers about the crucial need for aid in dying. C&C followed up a standing-room-only December public hearing with an aggressive campaign for the legislation, starting with a citizen lobbying day February 26. Advocates delivered more than 7,000 petitions from state residents who want aid-in-dying legislation and brought another 40 constituents to lobby their elected representatives in person. Extensive news coverage amplified the advocates’ voices: Boston’s NPR station, the Boston Globe and several other state papers, and two local TV stations covered the event. And C&C deployed a savvy campaign of online, radio and newspapers ads.

C&C Massachusetts advocates will spend the coming months building more public support in the Bay State, where a recent opinion poll showed support for death with dignity is stronger than ever: 71 percent of voters support aid-in-dying legislation, an increase of 10 points over a similar poll in 2012. That year a ballot initiative on aid in dying was narrowly defeated. Opponents outspent supporters five-to-one, mostly on ads designed to scare people. But the new poll suggests that debate educated Massachusetts voters, finding 79 percent of them now oppose government meddling in the “private, personal decisions of terminally ill patients.”

It will be also be another year until Connecticut lawmakers take up death-with-dignity legislation. Compassion & Choices campaigning got the issue all over talk radio, TV and front pages for several weeks across the Nutmeg state, which is why opponents quickly hired a slew of lobbyists to stop our momentum.

Those moneyed interests won – for now. But Compassion & Choices Connecticut’s efforts set the table for 2015. On March 17, more than 150 determined advocates flooded the Joint Public Health Committee Hearing in support of the aid-in-dying bill. Among them were Barbara Mancini, the Pennsylvania nurse who’d just been cleared of charges in her dad’s death, and Sara Myers, a tireless advocate because – and in spite – of her ALS.

The marathon 12-hour hearing followed the debut of a high-profile portrait project, visible at www.compassionandchoices.org.  Even when nervous opponents got the portraits abruptly (though temporarily) removed, momentum was unstoppable. The Hartford Courant editorialized in favor of the legislation. Representative Gary Holder-Winfield won a special Senate election on a platform that included end-of-life choice. In the end, lawmakers had to give the bill a hearing, but they refused to vote … To be continued in 2015!

Visit our state pages to learn how you can help bring death with dignity to your area.