– Disability advocates criticized a Connecticut-sponsored suicide bill for failing to protect itself against coercion and promoting the idea that terminally ill people are a burden on their caregivers.
“No amount of protective measures can counter the social stigma of needing help with intimate hygiene, of relying on others to see your caregivers tired and wondering if the world would be better off without you,” said Cathy Ludlum Hartford Courant.
Ludlum is the leader of Second Thoughts Connecticut, a group of disability attorneys who speak out against assisted suicide.
She added that the timing of the bill was suspect as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented constituents from collecting and sharing their statements at public hearings.
“One has to wonder why you are enforcing it during COVID-19 when voters have less access to lawmakers and public hearings,” she said.
As of 2013, several assisted suicide bills have been proposed in the state, but none of them have passed law.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D), co-chair of the state public health committee, told Hartford Courant that this bill was a priority for its committee and that “nothing of real consequence” in the bill had been changed since the previous one is an introduction, apart from some improvements that “reflect some of the lessons we have learned from experience with other countries”. Assisted suicide is when a patient is given lethal drugs by their doctor that they must self-administer to end their life. It is legal in nine states, including California, Oregon, Colorado, and Maine, and the District of Columbia.
Typical requirements for a patient to request assisted suicide include intellectual competence, a life expectancy of six months or less, and being licensed to have at least two doctors, although these requirements vary from state to state. Disabled groups are often vocal opponents of assisted suicide legislation, which they believe is aimed at vulnerable populations, including the disabled, the sick, the elderly and the poor. Patient rights advocacy groups have also pointed to cases where sick patients were offered assisted suicide instead of treatment because it was the cheapest option.
Thomas E. Sullivan, a cardiologist in Massachusetts, told the Hartford Courant that one of the main reasons people ask for assisted suicide is because they feel like a burden on their caregivers. Other reasons people often cite include loneliness, depression, dementia, and loss of control. But rather than offering to kill these patients, they should be cared for by “physical therapists and other disabled care specialists and, where appropriate, the roles of hospice, palliative and compassionate professionals, who routinely perform these functions in the most humane ways,” Sullivan said. In a written testimony for a 2019 Bill in Connecticut proposing CNA legalized medical-assisted suicide, Ludlum said she feared people with disabilities were being disproportionately driven towards assisted suicide rather than receiving adequate psychological and emotional support . Under this year’s legislation, Ludlum said she could be considered a candidate for assisted suicide as she would likely die without a feeding tube and breathing assistance. “What can I do to prevent someone like me from showing up at a doctor’s office and saying, ‘I’ve had enough. I am going to stop all my treatment ‘?’ She said.
Ludlum said she was concerned that someone with a disability would be “more likely to receive compassionate nods of approval” for assisted suicide than offers of psychological or palliative care.
Steinburg told the Hartford Courant that he did not believe that the disability community “did a particularly good job of either reading the actual language of the bill or evaluating the real experiences of states that passed laws where I did have not seen any really significant patterns of abuse, coercion. “
“We are talking about a very small population of terminally ill patients, not the disabled community. We go out of our way in the language to make sure that no family member or friend is forcing the affected person. It really disappoints me that I think they continue to be blind to this legislation, ”he added. Lisa Blumberg, a Hartford area attorney, told the Hartford Courant that she opposed the bill because the language of the bill only took into account the patient’s ability to choose assisted suicide at the time of prescribing medication rather than when they would take it. “We don’t know if a patient is competent when they take it. We don’t know if he’s having a bad day. We don’t know anything. We can’t afford to just have faith, ”she said.