Assisted Suicide Effort Defeated in Connecticut

Nora Sullivan, M.P.A  

This past Friday, disability rights and others working against an effort to legalize assisted suicide in the state of Connecticut, were able to successfully stop the momentum of this bill for the rest of the legislative session.


Compassion and Choices, the pro-assisted suicide group pushing for the bill, sent a last minute email Friday pleading for at least an up or down vote on the measure.  However, as the panel took no vote, the bill died in committee and will not be brought up again for the rest of the session.


Legislators expressed concerns about whether this bill, which is expected to be resurrected in 2014, has enough safeguards to ensure that patients’ end-of-life decisions were not imprudently made.  State Sen. Jason Welch (R-Bristol) said he initially supported changing the bill to require multiple medical opinions and waiting periods but ultimately opposed the bill out of a concern that protections for the chronically ill were too few and too weak.


Connecticut’s Public Health Committee Senate Vice-Chair, State Sen. Gayle Slossberg (D-Milford), remarked, “There wasn’t enough support in the committee for a vote. It wasn’t even close… I think people have difficulty with a societal go-ahead for suicide and I think it’s a challenge for a lot of people.”  Sen. Slossberg added that she himself opposed the measure.


The loss in Connecticut must be quite a disappointment for assisted suicide advocates.  Proponents for assisted suicide seem to be targeting socially liberal Northeast states, as well as the Pacific Northwest, with these initiatives where it seems more likely that they will be well received.  In Massachusetts, a referendum to legalize it was defeated in 2012 following an extremely contentious fight.  Physician assisted suicide is also currently legal in Oregon and Washington.


Advocates for physicians assisted suicide argue that giving terminally ill patients the option of ending their lives is the most compassionate option and argue for its safety and ethicality. However, as pointed out by Dr. Jacqueline Harvey, physician assisted suicide can lead to unforeseen harm.  There is real concern that the legalization of physician assisted suicide can lead to the denial of palliative care coverage and adverse impact on the disabled.  Dr. Harvey also points out that there is a real worry about terminally ill patients being coerced into choosing suicide for financial reasons or convenience sake.


Additionally,   the American Medical Association has remained firm in its opposition to physician assisted suicide.  “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”


The defeat of this bill in Connecticut and the referendum in Massachusetts is a great sign for advocates of the disabled and others concerned about the ethics of such legislation that even in states known for socially liberal policies- people realize the gravity of such policies. It is to be hoped that the American people continue to recognize this and discourage attempts to legalize this ethically problematic policy.  We must instead call for ever improving care for the terminally ill and recognize the dignity of every human person until their natural death.


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