Sebastian's Point

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Connecticut's Assisted Suicide Bill Defeated

Skylar Covich  |  21 April 2022

On April 12, 2022, the Connecticut state legislature defeated a bill legalizing assisted suicide (politically also known as Aid in Dying). This is the tenth year in a row that such a bill had been proposed in Connecticut; earlier attempts had begun as far back as 1994. SB 88 was thought by some to have a significant chance of passing after it was approved by a Joint Public Health Committee, which had happened for the first-time last year, but it was rejected by another Committee. Proponents argued that the bill would have provided more safeguards against sudden decisions compared to past assisted suicide bills, because it required patients to be declared mentally competent and terminally ill (less than 6 months to live) by two doctors.  It received vigorous opposition lead by a disability rights group called Second Thoughts Connecticut, backed by national disability groups like Not Dead Yet, and Catholic hospice officials.[1] It was defeated by state senators on the Judiciary Committee in a 5-4 vote; Democrat Mae Flexer voted along with all four Republicans against the measure.[2]

 

I am not a Connecticut resident. However, I have written in the past about the politics of assisted suicide, and appeared on EWTN last year during a previous fight against assisted suicide in Connecticut. Thus, I was asked by the Society of St Sebastian to cover this bill. Connecticut and Maryland are examples of predominantly Democratic states which have continued to fight off annual attempts at legalizing assisted suicide, which is now legal in ten states and the District of Columbia. Connecticut has done so despite several obstacles. Polling numbers in favor of assisted suicide are high in Connecticut, with the Connecticut Mirror finding one poll with 75% support. In 2021, there was a controversy over strategy between disability rights groups and the Catholic Conference (which thankfully does not seem to have been repeated this year). Finally, according to the roll call tally for the Public Health Committee, three Republicans voting in favor of assisted suicide while only one Democrat on that committee voted against it. One of the Republicans who voted Yes, Kathy Kennedy, cited her experience as a hospice volunteer and watching friends suffer pain.[3]

 

According to the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, and mainstream Connecticut media sources, opposition to SB 88 was unquestionably led by Second Thoughts Connecticut and its director, Kathy Ludlum. Representatives from that group testified at a lengthy Public Health Committee meeting in February, arguing that these laws would result in discouraged people moving forward with the option, and worse medical coverage for the disabled.[4] [5] Opponents pointed out that increasing the steps needed to approve an assisted suicide does not truly provide safeguards. As the state endorses assisted suicide as a valid option, doctors will inevitably be more likely to approve requests of those who may be in physical pain, often without a long waiting period. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has documented increasing prevalence of assisted suicide in states where it has been legalized and in Europe, including among those not terminally ill, and this data was brought up at the hearing. A few physicians also argued against the bill. While religious opposition did not appear to be at the forefront, one Catholic sister working in hospice care also uniquely argued that palliative care allows better preparation for death. Despite this testimony, the bill passed the Public Health Committee 23-9.

 

It was an unusual parliamentary procedure which allowed the bill to be defeated. In Connecticut, committee votes are normally done by joint Committees of both houses of the Legislature. With approval of Democratic leadership, a motion passed allowing the Judiciary Committee to consider the bill, and then only the Senators on the Judiciary Committee. What I have not been able to determine is how committed the Judiciary Committee Republicans and Democratic Senator Flexer were to their positions against the bill. Two of the other Committee Democrats expressed strong support for the bill. It’s possible that some Democratic leadership wished for the issue to be dropped but didn’t want to directly vote against it. This speaks to the political strength of disability rights groups in Connecticut, but again, it’s unclear what persuaded Senator Flexer, who in general does not seem to be a legislator with a high media profile.

 

Moving forward, the continued defeat of the Connecticut bill gives hope to opponents of assisted suicide. It is an increasingly common tactic of legislators to claim that safeguards are a gesture of moderation, when there are plenty of concerns about both the philosophical question of whether assisted suicide can ever be ethical and the effectiveness of these safeguards, and there are usually later attempts to undo the safeguards. It is good to see, however, that no states have legalized the practice in the past year, after New Mexico did so in April 2021. We can continue to support efforts of disability rights groups, concerned physicians, and religious groups to strategize together. In an age of significant debate about the best course of our health care system, we can present solutions which promote pain management, integration of the ill and disabled in to our communities, and availability of medical treatment which keeps costs down even for serious illnesses.

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[1] Summary of Public Health Committee Hearing https://ctmirror.org/2022/02/23/public-testifies-on-aid-in-dying-legislation/

[2] Bill Text and Votes on SB 88 https://legiscan.com/CT/text/SB00088/2022

[3] https://www.courant.com/politics/hc-pol-aid-in-dying-vote-20220304-wdlfyxhszjezphuyjmyy7mfgfa-story.html

[4] Local news story about failure of the bill https://ctmirror.org/2022/04/11/bill-to-help-terminally-ill-end-their-lives-lethal-dose-aid-in-dying-ct/

[5] and from Euthanasia Prevention Coalition https://alexschadenberg.blogspot.com/2022/04/connecticut-assisted-suicide-bill-is.html

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Skylar Covich

2022 Academic Fellow

Society of St. Sebastian