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Doctors, Patients Disappointed in Court Decision

Connecticut physicians, terminally ill patients and Compassion & Choices, the nation’s largest and oldest nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life, today expressed disappointment with the recent Blick et al v. Connecticut court decision.  On June 2, 2010, Judge Julia Aurigemma ruled to dismiss a case that sought to clarify the ability of mentally competent, terminally ill patients to obtain aid in dying from their physician if they find their dying process unbearable. Attorneys for the State of Connecticut filed a motion to dismiss the case, which asked whether a physician providing aid in dying is subject to criminal prosecution under an old nonspecific statute that makes it a crime to aid another to ‘commit suicide’.

“We are disappointed that the court dismissed this important case,” said Kathryn Tucker, Director of Legal Affairs for Compassion & Choices and co-counsel to the plaintiff physicians. “The court reached the ultimate issue in the case at the motion to dismiss stage, denying plaintiffs the opportunity to make their case. We are considering all options including appeal, hoping the higher court may permit a full review of the merits. It is essential for Connecticut physicians to know whether providing aid in dying subjects them to criminal prosecution. At present it is not clear and this creates an environment of uncertainty, leaving patients unsure if they will be able to access aid in dying if they find themselves confronting an unbearable dying process.”

Sheldon Smith, an 86-year old terminally ill Bethany man with Stage IV abdominal cancer, said, “I’ve had three years now to consider the effects of my cancer, and to prepare for the end of my life due to this terminal disease. However, I’m quite concerned about how the very end of my life will unfold. I know the type of pain that abdominal cancer can cause, and I’d like a physician to be able to prescribe medication that I could consume to bring about a peaceful death if my dying process becomes intolerable. I want to leave this world with the same dignity with which I’ve lived my life.”

Norwalk infectious disease specialist Dr. Gary Blick and Greenwich primary care internist Dr. Ron Levine, the plaintiffs in Blick, asserted that the choice of a mentally competent, terminally ill patient for a peaceful death is not ‘suicide’ and therefore a physician providing such a patient with a prescription for medication the patient can ingest to achieve a peaceful death is not subject to the law. The Montana Supreme Court recently decided a similar case, Baxter v. Montana, in physicians’ and patients’ favor.

Dr. Blick is the Medical and Research Director of CIRCLE Medical, LLC in Norwalk, Ct. His specialty is in infectious disease and treatment of HIV/AIDS.  Dr. Blick was a Resident at Yale University School of Medicine and Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, CT.  He was both an attending and consulting physician at Greenwich Hospital and was the Founder and Chairman of the Greenwich Hospital AIDS Task Force.

Dr. Levine is a primary care internist in Greenwich.  He served his internship and residency at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Dr. Levine is both an Attending Physician and a Clinical Instructor at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut.  He is also a Clinical Instructor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

The physician plaintiffs are represented by Compassion & Choices Legal Director Kathryn Tucker, Connecticut appellate specialist Dan Krisch and noted Connecticut civil-rights attorney Jamie L. Mills.

The Complaint and the court’s decision can be viewed here.