New Haven activists oppose film promoting medical assisted suicide outside the New Haven Public Library on August 11, 2021.

Seven activists who identify as “Progressives Against Medical Assisted Suicide” came to a screening of “Prescription for Peace of Mind: An Option for the Terminally Ill” at the New Haven Free Public Library to present another point of view earlier this month.

We held signs declaring that “Suicide is Not a Medical Treatment” and “Medical Assisted Suicide threatens the elderly, the poor, the disabled, you.” We passed out leaflets with nine reasons to oppose this legislation, which enables doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to those they deem “terminally ill.” Five of us also went inside to the sparsely attended screening in order to bring our objections directly to the two filmmakers.

Presented as part of the New Haven Documentary Film Series, the film does not attempt objectivity. In addition to three individuals whose very sad stories are told, a few family members who support MAS are interviewed at length. In a statement perhaps unintended to be so revealing, a nurse who was also present at the screening says that her reason for supporting the legislation is that the hospice care for her dying father was inadequate and unresponsive– a remark she reiterated in person. The inadequacies, injustices, shortcomings, and growing inhumanity of our current medical system are in fact one important reason many of us so vehemently oppose this practice.

The film also features Compassion and Choices Connecticut Field Director Tim Appleton and Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D., Fairfield), a long-time prime mover of MAS legislation in Connecticut. As proponents of this legislation always do, the film’s treatment implies that the only resistance to its passage comes from religious institutions and conservatives. The voices of disability justice and other activists who testify before our state legislature annually and work continually to educate about the dangers of MAS are nowhere to be heard.

The five of us challenged this glaring and deliberate omission and discussed the dangers of MAS in detail, recounting painful personal stories of unyielding institutional pressure by the medical system to end life-sustaining treatment for our own loved ones. We cited cost-cutting imperatives by hospitals and insurance companies combined with prejudice against the disabled, the elderly, and the poor as twin threats which can only be further enabled should such a bill pass. In the words of one activist, medical assisted suicide is not a “slippery slope” but a juggernaut.

Although the most recent assisted suicide bill in Connecticut was voted out of the Public Health Committee for the first time in 2021, it was halted in its next stop, the Judiciary Committee, which thankfully chose not to bring it to a vote. But the national agenda of the well-heeled Hemlock Society (rebranded as Compassion and Choices) is to ensure that every state passes this legislation. Opponents expect another bill to be brought forward in Connecticut next year. We are getting prepared.

SAVE THE DATE:  Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. “NOT DEAD YET” community speak-out and singalong with invited speakers to be announced. New Haven Free Public Library Community Program Room, 2-4 pm. Fully accessible venue. Masks required.

Joan Cavanagh lives in New Haven.