A bill that would permit doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill patients with less than six months to live did not clear the legislature’s public health committee.
The committee’s deadline to approve bills was 5 p.m. Friday. Even without the committee’s endorsement, House Bill 6645 could come up again before the General Assembly adjourns for the year on June 5. But both supporters and opponents say that is unlikely to happen.
Instead, the bill’s backers say they will make another push next year. “This is an important issue that lawmakers need to carefully consider, and we will work with lawmakers to re-introduce a bill next legislative session,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion and Choices, a national group that advocated for the bill. “Family members, clergy, doctors and nurses came to Hartford last month to show their support for this proposal, and we are confident that it will eventually become law in Connecticut.”
Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford and a leading advocate of the bill in the House, said in a statement that the bill had gained “widespread support” from both lawmakers and the general public.
“I want to thank the Committee’s leadership and members for taking up this complex and important issue, and we will continue to work towards its passage next year,” Ritter said.
More than 100 people turned out for a public hearing on the measure last month. Survivors shared harrowing stories of loved ones seeking the right to end their suffering. But the hearing also drew the elderly and people with disabilities, who expressed their fears that physician-assisted suicide would hurt vulnerable patients, and hospice workers, who said the end of life need not be filled with pain.
On Friday, minutes after the 5 p.m. deadline elapsed, one of the bill’s most outspoken critics applauded the committee for listening. “They were open to being educated on this,” said Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut.
The committee’s decision not to move the bill forward means Connecticut this year is unlikely to join Washington and Oregon as states that permit doctors to prescribe medication enabling patients with terminal illness to commit suicide.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told reporters last month he was wrestling with the issue and had yet to reach a conclusion about whether he would sign such a proposal. ”
“It’s an issue that’s fraught with fears, represents taboos both religious and societal,” Malloy said in late March. “It also raises very substantial questions the ability of one to control their own destiny.”
Wolfgang is Malloy’s ideological opposite on most issues. But in this case, he praised the governor. “We’re grateful to him for pausing and giving this issue some thought,” he said.