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Assisted suicide bill deserves a speedy demise

By Paul Choiniere

Publication: The Day

Published March 02. 2014 4:00AM

Seeing Connecticut as a progressive state primed to endorse the latest movement in individual choice - in this case the choice to "have the best death possible" - Compassion and Choices is for a second straight year pushing for passage of an assisted suicide law.

In these parts, the group is called Compassion and Choices Connecticut. The national movement adds the state to the name depending on local jurisdiction. It is a nice name, warm and sufficiently fuzzy. It is far more marketable, if less honest, than the organization it grew from, the "Hemlock Society," named after the poison plant used to execute the Greek philosopher Socrates.

This is not a grassroots movement. While there are many in the state backing the law that would legalize giving individuals, diagnosed as terminally ill, the means to kill themselves, there was no great clamor for such legislation until the national Compassion and Choices organization targeted Connecticut.

As the name implies, the proposal is cast as a choice. A person with a few months to live, who is becoming increasingly incapacitated and dependent on others, and who wants to avoid physical suffering, can obtain medication to commit suicide. In the parlance of the movement, they could then die with "dignity."

This is a bad path for society to take.

What message does it send to and about severely disabled people to contend it is undignified to need the assistance of others? By that logic, an infant has no dignity.

When government sends the signal through law that sometimes death is the best option, what pressure might that place on the dying - who worry they are a financial and emotional burden on family - to "just get it over with?"

Hospice professionals I have talked with say people should not suffer physically in their last days if proper pain control medication is used. Yes, at some point, increasing doses of opiates and a weakened condition will lead to death, but pain avoidance is morally distinct from assisted suicide.

People have the choice to refuse extraordinary measures to keep them alive, which is at it should be. There is no need to begin the moral descent that would come with saying it is OK to kill yourself because life is no longer worth living.

In its slick marketing campaign to push its assisted suicide agenda, Compassion and Choices received permission to hang a series of posters - each featuring portraits of people supporting the movement with their quotes -along the wall of the concourse that connects the State House to the Legislative Office Building.

I was shocked to see such a display advocating a specific legislative agenda when I was at the Capitol to hear the governor's State of the State Address on Feb. 6. Normally the walls are covered with child and adult artwork, photos of the state and from its history, and items promoting nonpartisan health and civic causes. Would a right-to-life group get equal display space and time?

James Tracy, executive director of the Office of Legislative Management, told me recently that in retrospect the display should not have received approval. He ordered it removed a few days short of its approved two-week time limit. His office is revising the guidelines to clarify that private displays are not to engage in partisan debate, but should enrich the visiting experience.

Good thing, there is plenty of partisan debate at the Capitol already.

As for the assisted suicide bill, I expect it will experience a premature demise just like the posters and last year's bill.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.



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