Last week, the General Assembly voted to make pizza the official state food. I wish our lawmakers had shown as much respect for their constituents with terminal illnesses.
In contrast, last month, the Judiciary Committee chose to ignore and disregard the wishes of 75 percent of Connecticut voters who support medical aid-in-dying legislation (HB 6524). Without public discussion or debate, lawmakers decided to table HB 6425 without even taking a vote.
This legislative inaction shows again that too many elected officials are not listening to the wishes and needs of their constituents.
Further, this inaction also ensures that many terminally ill residents of Connecticut, who are dying and suffering, who are not, or do not feel, comforted by palliative measures, will not have the option to choose an otherwise peaceful end to their life. Rather, these terminally ill individuals, myself included, will be faced with an emotionally traumatic and likely physically painful ending to life. Our families and friends will bear witness, and helplessly wait, for the inevitable: death.
One senator told me during my testimony at the public hearing on the bill in March that she can guarantee a dignified and peaceful end to one’s life because she’s “seen it happen.” Because she and so many other legislators have not heard the cries and screams of patients for whom palliative measures don’t work, they think such measures work for everyone and that end of life suffering doesn’t, or doesn’t have to, exist. Because they have not experienced the trying and traumatic, seemingly indefinite, ending of their lives, they hold on to their belief that all death is peaceful: it is not.
In 2006 I stayed by my mother’s side, in my parent’s home in Maine, and watched her steadily decline from terminal cancer. A once vibrant, energetic, and lively woman, despite palliative measures, she was riddled with pain and discomfort, both physically and emotionally. We all knew she was dying, we simply didn’t know how long her suffering would last. She prayed for the suffering to end as she cried and screamed. Had the medical aid-in-dying legislation been in force then, as it is now in the state of Maine, she would have had another option for an end to her suffering.
Through my personal journey as a stage IV ovarian cancer survivor, I have had glimpses of what my end-of-life experience will likely be. I have experienced the physical pain and emotional despair; I have experienced the guilt over what I’m putting my family and friends through. Though I am stable right now, each day I am keenly aware that the course of my disease may make its final shift. This harsh reality is inevitable and there will be no further reprieves. The fear and dread that I feel for what I anticipate the end of my life will be like is with me always.
For some people, last week’s vote to make pizza the official state food was exciting. While I love pizza as much as the next person, I am devastated. The legislature has swiftly ended my hope that I would have an option, a choice, or control over my final days. Today, the only way for me to have the end-of-life care option I want available to me is to move to one of the 10 states where medical aid in dying is legal, where lawmakers have demonstrated a deeper regard for the wishes of their constituents and their personal dignity.
Kim Hoffman is a clinical social worker from Glastonbury.