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The following is State Senator Ed Meyer's March column.
For the first time in my service as your state senator, I have received calls and correspondence urging my introduction of a bill that would permit deeply ill people to receive from their physician a medication that would end life. After reviewing existing such legislation in Oregon, Washington, and Montana, I decided to introduce in the Connecticut Legislature a bill that has been called by different names—Death with Dignity, Compassionate Aid-in-Dying, and Physician-Assisted Suicide. A public hearing on this bill, which is House Bill 6645, will be held by the Public Health Committee in Hartford on Wednesday, March 20. I will listen to the testimony at that hearing to determine my own vote. The issue does need a hearing.
One constituent described the slow and painful death of his young cousin dying from cystic fibrosis. He wrote as follows: “When I entered her hospital room I did not even recognize her. Her face was covered with an oxygen mask, her hair had not been washed in days and her legs had become really thin. I could not even imagine that my cousin had to endure that pain and loss of dignity.” I have had other similar reports.
The bill is full of safeguards. First, the patient must be certified by his or her physician plus a consulting physician as terminally ill within six months of death. Second, the patient must be found by two physicians as fully competent and making an informed decision based on all the alternatives including palliative care. Third, the patient must make a written request acknowledged by at least two persons excluding any relative or person who would benefit from the patient’s death. Fourth, the patient may rescind his or her request for aid-in-dying at any time and in any manner without regard to mental state. Indeed, in Oregon, where 96 patients made physician requests in the first three years of that state’s law, research indicated that more than one half of the people who have requested physician aid in dying never used the medication. Fifth, if the patient, in the medical opinion of the attending or consulting physician, is suffering from a psychiatric condition or depression, then the patient must be referred for counseling before a decision is made that the patient is competent and well informed.
There is some strong opposition to death with dignity legislation. It comes primarily from the Catholic Church based upon its principles of the sanctity of life and also from organizations representing disabled persons who are concerned about abuse in the decision making function. I have met with people reflecting this opposition and have urged them to testify at the public hearing. One constituent said, for example, “Let morphine help the pain problem, but no assisted death.” Do get involved in this provocative dialogue.