March 4, 2014

End-Of-Life Choice Should Be Law

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Jody Wynn Rodiger comes to the aid-in-dying movement as a lay person trained to minister to the dying.

“I’ve watched people at the end of their lives,” said Rodiger. That includes 30 years ago, when she was living and ministering in New York City. “I lost a lot of friends to AIDS,” she said. “Medical science kept pushing drugs, and they were begging to go.”

Like 65 percent of the state’s residents, Rodiger, who is a mission collaboration administrator at the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, would like to see a comprehensive aid-in-dying law, also known by proponents as “death with dignity” and – by its opponents — “assisted suicide.”

Posters by Compassion & Choices displayed in the Legislative Office Building.

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Posters by Compassion & Choices displayed in the Legislative Office Building.

And though there are deep-pocketed opponents, this could be Connecticut’s year to join the nation’s five other states that allow terminally ill, mentally competent patients to end their own lives. (A state court in New Mexico opened the door to aid-in-dying with a decision in January.)

An aid-in-dying bill is before the state legislature’s Public Health Committee, and Tim Appleton, Compassion & Choices’ state campaign manager, is encouraging supporters to e-mail committee members to let them know it’s time.

An independent poll commissioned by that non-profit advocacy organization – formerly known as The Hemlock Society — said that 65 percent of Connecticut residents favor a bill that would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients who have less than six months to live. As a reflection of public sentiment after last year’s unsuccessful bill, this year’s piece of legislation requires the input of a second physician, and includes a waiting period between a written request by the patient and an oral request – similar to the statutes in other states with end-of-life provisions.

Sixty-percent of Massachusetts residents supported a similar bill (known as Question 2) in 2012, yet that bill did not pass.  There, as in Connecticut, opponents included advocacy groups for people with disabilities, and the Roman Catholic Church. The powerful U.S. Conference of Bishops supports palliative care, which focuses on alleviating pain when the end of life is near. They like to talk about a “slippery slope” – as if helping the terminally ill to end their lives will unleash a rash of people taking their own lives.

Appleton suggests those opponents should think more about friends and family members who have been charged in courts with helping dying loved ones end their lives. No one wants to be in the barbaric position of breaking the law over honoring someone’s dying wish, yet that is precisely what happens in states like Connecticut.

In this, we are far behind Oregon, where legislators passed a death with dignity law in 1997. The law requires the state to keep track of patients who avail themselves of the law’s benefits; last year’s report said 122 Oregonians received prescriptions for lethal medication. Most were older, Caucasian, well-educated, and their most common diagnosis was cancer. The vast majority – 97 percent – died at home.

This year’s push for an aid-in-dying law in Connecticut started a few days before the legislative session began, when Compassion & Choices hung 30 large portraits in the Legislative Office Building’s concourse – Rodiger’s portrait among them. The portraits were to be displayed – as are other signs and posters that push other legislative agendas – for two weeks, but at the request of House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, the portraits were removed after just a week. Cafero, who opposes aid-in-dying legislation, said the posters were too political for the State Capitol.

The posters came down, but Appleton says momentum is on the side of aid-in-dying proponents.

“With social change, opponents who fought and fought seeking to deny any expansion of our rights, over time history has shown us those efforts always fail,” said Appleton. “Aid-in-dying is similar. We have history on our side.”

 

One thought on “End-Of-Life Choice Should Be Law

  1. Oh, brother. Is Mr. Appleton seriously adopting that lame cliché now?

    Although I find Ms. Rodiger plenty sympathetic, she apparently has this bill mixed up with the legitimate right to refuse unwanted treatment, life extension by machines, “extraordinary measures,” etc. which was vindicated by the Supreme Court some 24 years ago. (See her letter: http://www.journalinquirer.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/march-letters/article_ccb4e384-a2bb-11e3-b9c8-001a4bcf887a.html) All the good intentions in the world aside, Bill 5326 will not protect patients; what it could do is shield killers from prosecution.

    Where deep pockets are concerned, what opponent in this state has bigger pockets than Compassion & Choices’ major donor, George Soros? The man has a net worth of $23 billion (http://www.forbes.com/profile/george-soros/). C&C has already spent well over $150,000 in Connecticut to try to get this bill passed.

    Assisted suicide (come on, cut the warm ‘n’ fuzzy euphemisms) is not legal in 5 states. In Montana, consent can be used as a legal defense, but that doesn’t guarantee anything; in New Mexico as far as I know it’s still working through the courts.

    Opponents in Massachusetts you failed to mention also “included” the MA Medical Society and Victoria Kennedy (yes, the widow of the late Sen. Kennedy, who outlived his prognosis by about a year!).

    I’ve read every one of those Oregon annual reports. Their methodology leaves a lot to be desired, which I can get into, but the fact is that I have the publicly-available full text of our bill and don’t even see any such requirements in there. Here it is…if anybody can tell me where it establishes tracking, outside of a patient’s private medical records, you get a gold star: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/TOB/H/2014HB-05326-R00-HB.htm There will be no sign of it on the death certificate.

    As for Cafero, he was honest, and I’ll let his own statements (at the very link you posted) speak for themselves: “Cafero said he happens to be against the aid-in-dying legislation, but
    said even if it was an issue he supported he would have complained.”

    Finally — anybody remember William Myers III testifying last year to how he suffocated his father with a plastic bag and went on all the morning TV shows, or one of the bill’s sponsors (who is sponsoring again this year) not knowing what the lethal drug is called but being sure it’s 100% effective? That’s just scary. Connecticut, think long and hard about whether you are really comfortable with what’s going down!

    Ms. Campbell, I have to be blunt: did you even attempt to talk to anyone from the opposite side before composing this? Tight deadline, or what? I would not be boasting if I said I have probably forgotten more information on the subject in the last year than appears have gone into the article.

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