The deadline came and went last week for a committee in the Connecticut legislature to advance a death-with-dignity law – a bill that enjoyed two-to-one support in the Nutmeg State. The Joint Public Health Committee failed to vote out the Compassionate Aid In Dying For Terminally Ill Patients act, which means it cannot be taken up by the legislature until next year.
When the deadline passed, Tim Appleton, Campaign Director for Compassion & Choices Connecticut, said, “The legislature’s failure to act has consequences. It means more end-of-life suffering for thousands of terminally ill Connecticut residents, including those who have been denied the peace of mind that comes from knowing this choice is available.” It was obvious that powerful institutions and their money had effectively silenced the people, especially since nine or ten opposition lobbyists a day were seen around the Capitol in recent weeks.
Two recent opinion polls, including Quinnipiac University’s, showed that a strong majority of Connecticut voters supported aid-in-dying legislation. Several major Connecticut newspaper editorial boards came out in support of it and papers across the state repeatedly covered the debate.
Compassion & Choices campaign organizers mobilized citizens to call and visit their legislators and pursued an aggressive communications strategy with online, radio and newspaper ads that ran in lawmakers’ hometown papers. Legislators on the Committee also received thousands of petitions and – during a public hearing that made front-page news in six newspapers and was featured in multiple broadcast outlets – heard from scores of Connecticut citizens who personally testified about why they, or someone they loved, needed the law.
One person who heard that testimony was State Senator Gary Holder-Winfield, who sat on the Public Health Committee. He had won his Senate seat campaigning as a staunch supporter of the law and said, “I am disappointed that the discussion about aid in dying has come to an end. This issue had strong voices on both sides and is an important public policy discussion I hope we can revisit in the future.”
Leaders in the legislature had had a photo gallery of citizen supporters abrubtly removed from the Capitol in February, after caving in to the same forces that dispatched all those lobbyists. One of the stars of that gallery was Sara Myers, whose courage in talking about the painful death she’ll face from ALS was reported in news outlets across the state. Sara also spoke at a February press conference and appeared in print and radio advertisements Compassion & Choices ran. Sara said she remains committed to helping educate her Connecticut neighbors about this issue, and added, “I am forever grateful to the excellent campaign run by Compassion & Choices and look forward to trying once again next year.”
One bill that did advance out of the Public Health Committee was legislation establishing a program for Medical Orders for Life-sustaining Treatment (M.O.L.S.T.). M.O.L.S.T. programs are known to help patients, their loved ones, advocates and physicians have candid conversations about all end-of-life options, including advance directives and death with dignity, so this is good news for Connecticut.
During a March press conference, MOLST legislation was something Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy indicated he could support, while saying he wanted to understand the death-with-dignity law better before forming an opinion. Shortly after the Committee deadline passed, Malloy announced his intention to run for re-election this November. The Compassion & Choices Connecticut team is determined to use this campaign season to educate Malloy and other candidates about death with dignity, including its solid record in other states, so that the legislation advances further next year, and the people get their say.