People tell stories at hearing for ‘aid in dying’ bill

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HARTFORD—The debate over allowing Connecticut physicians to prescribe medication to help the terminally ill end their lives got personal on Wednesday, as state legislators told emotional stories about how their loved ones handled their final days.

The emotional accounts were recalled at a hearing held before the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee considers a "dying with dignity" bill.

Democratic state Rep. Kelly Luxenberg of Manchester is one of the bill's 16 co-sponsors. Luxenburg provided a tearful testimony about her father, who killed himself by drowning after suffering with Parkinson’s disease for years.

“Even though death and dignity wouldn't have applied to my father at that time. It is imperative we give people choices at the end of their lives,” Luxenburg said.

More than 200 people signed up to share their opinions on the House Bill 7015, dubbed as the “aid in dying” bill, which would allow terminal patients with six months or less to live to legally obtain a doctor's help in ending their lives.

Karina Danvers of West Haven has lived with AIDS for 20 years, she wants to  live as long as possible, but wants choices.

“I just want more option. In case that day comes where I longer can live with the physical pain,” Danvers said.

Similar proposals have come up in the past two years, but each time they failed to receive a committee vote.  The legislation has always required that the patient be mentally competent. It has also always stipulated that the request for the lethal dose of medication would have to be witnessed by two people.

Supporters say this bill addresses concerns about terminally ill patients being coerced into ending their lives.  Additional safeguards in this year’s bill include a provision that both witnesses cannot be related to the patient or heirs to the patient's estate.

The bill also specifies that the doctor and the consulting doctor — both of whom must sign off on the patient's request — cannot be in practice together.

Cathy Ludlum, who has a neuromuscular disease that took away her ability to move, testified before the legislative committee.  Ludlum believes misconceptions about people with severe disabilities can lead medical workers to give them less aggressive lifesaving options.

“No matter how many safeguards go into the bill, we are going to be the collateral damage,” said Ludlum.

Several legislators on the Judicial Committee expressed their doubts about the idea, including the Judicial Committee chairman, state Sen. John Kissel (R-Enfield).

“I have great concerns with this. I don't see it as compassionate,” said Kissel.

Advocacy groups and those protecting the needs of the disabled spoke against physician assisted suicide, including Maggie Karner, a Bristol woman with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

“We're going to embrace a whole new ethic that confuses compassionate medical care for prescription for death,” Karner said.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week that found broad support for the proposal in Connecticut.

Opponents cite a new Marist Institute for Public Opinion poll conducted on behalf of the Knights of Columbus that show deep mistrust of the legislation: nearly 60 percent of those surveyed fear that a patient's state of mind could be misjudged and 62 percent worry that a doctor's assessment about the course of the patient's disease could be wrong.