Citizens on opposite sides of the debate over doctor-assisted suicide came to the state Capitol complex Thursday morning in advance of a hearing on the measure.
House Bill 6645 would allow a physician to prescribe medication that a mentally competent, terminally ill patient could take to end his or her life.
Backers of the bill say it provides a measure of relief to the terminally ill, even if they never decide to take steps to end their lives.
“I was diagnosed with ALS two and a half years ago,” said Sara Meyers, who came to the Hartford to testify in support of the measure. “And I am in the position of facing total paralysis–a lack of everything except the way my mind works,” she said. ”And I am here to support this bill because…I want the choice, whether I use it or not. I think it’s a very, very important choice.” (Critics say people with ALS would likely not be covered by the bill because they would not be capable of self-administering the lethal dose of medication.)
At a press conference before the public health committee hearing organized by a group called Second Thoughts that opposes assisted suicide, critics said the measure lacks sufficient safeguards and could lead to abuse. “We will be killing our vulnerable parents and grandparents through public policy,” said Teresa Wells, a nursing home administrator.
James McGaughey, executive director of the state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, said he opposes the bill because it legitimizes suicide. The line between terminally illness and a progressive disability is often a fine one, he says.
“Would it not be better to invest in truly compassionate care, to expand the availability of first class palliative medicine and enlarge the scope of hospice programs that to open the door to abuses and cross into the highly problematic, morally questionable territory of legalizing assisted suicide?” McGaughey wrote in testimony he provided to the committee.
Supporters of the bill, who also gathered at the Capitol before the hearing, said there are sufficient safeguards to guard against abuses. Patients would have to undergo a screening by a physician to ensure they are psychologically competent and acting voluntarily. Only those with less than six months to live would be permitted to obtain the lethal medication.
“Terminally ill people are not necessarily disabled and disabled people are not necessarily terminally,” said Dr. Gary Blick of Norwalk. “If my mother, who’s 91 years old, has a stroke and she’s in a wheelchair, they’re saying she’s going to be a burden to me so I’m going to take these medicines and throw them down her throat and take her, that’s a felony. That’s called murder.”