Lynda Shannon Bluestein rests at her bedroom where she wants to die surrounded by her loved ones when pain from cancer becomes unbearable. "I want to maybe play some music together and tell family stories and laugh, and then finally just say I'm tired," Bluestein said. She was diagnosed with late-stage Fallopian tube cancer in March 2021 after going through treatment for breast cancer and malignant melanoma. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to access life-ending medication won’t advance beyond the legislature’s Judiciary Committee this year, and proponents said they don’t expect the measure to pass this legislative session.

Senators on the committee voted 5-4 against the bill Monday after members asked for a divided vote. Because the bill failed to win enough support among senators, House members on the committee did not take a vote.

Four Democrats voted in favor of the bill – Sens. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven; Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor; Will Haskell, D-Westport; and Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown – while four Republicans and one Democrat voted against it. Those opposed were Sens. John Kissel, R-Enfield; Dan Champagne, R-Vernon; Paul Cicarella, R-North Haven; Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott; and Mae Flexer, D-Windham.

“I am sad and sorry for the people who were hoping the bill would pass,” Anwar said. “What some of the legislators may not understand is that while it is not necessarily going to impact them right now, there are people they represent in our state for whom this was one of the most important things in their life as they approach death. And that is why it was worthy for them to have empathy for those individuals. 

“I don’t know what I can say beyond that. I just feel sorry for the people who were hoping this would be the year the state of Connecticut helps them out.”

The Public Health Committee passed the measure in March, just three weeks into the session. But it sat in limbo until recently. Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff lead the Senate steering committee, which decided the bill should also be considered by the Judiciary Committee before heading to their chamber for a vote. The proposal had also failed to advance beyond the Judiciary Committee last year.

To qualify for access to lethal medication under the bill, patients with a terminal illness must submit two written requests to their attending physician, the second at least 15 days after the first. Each written request has to be witnessed by two people who are not immediate family members or entitled to a portion of an estate at the time of a person’s death.

During Monday’s debate, Kissel said the legislation could encourage some people to end their life for reasons other than suffering, such as if they become a financial burden to family members.

“A lot of folks are living far longer, but they become more frail. And if we allow this kind of policy to move forward, it’s my concern that there will be tremendous pressure, either intentional or subconscious, for the individual who’s getting older,” he said. “If they need medical assistance that’s costly, they may grapple with their own conscience saying, ‘Well, I’m dissipating $10,000 a month by having myself stay alive and my kids and grandkids aren’t going to get any money. I should just do away with myself.’

“If all of a sudden we move forward in this direction, I just think there’s a whole group of individuals who would never think this way who all of a sudden would be thinking of offing themselves or killing themselves.”

In emotional testimony, Winfield, a supporter of the bill, spoke of watching his mother die.

“She loved life,” he said. “She was deeply religious. She was in the church. She had various roles in the church. And yet at the end of her life, she begged to die. She had amazing care, but it couldn’t cover everything. So we watched her die.

“I wasn’t always someone who would be a proponent of this bill,” Winfield said. “There was a point at which I would have opposed this bill. But it’s true that even if you’ve experienced death before, one horrible death can change you.”

Dozens of people who witnessed the painful death of loved ones testified in favor of the bill this session. That included Tessa Marquis, whose mother died just weeks before she addressed lawmakers. “She had to starve herself to death,” she told them.

The bill drew opposition, however, from members of the state’s disability community, from some physicians and from others.

Cathy Ludlum, head of Second Thoughts Connecticut, took issue with the proposal’s definition of a terminal illness, defined as an “incurable and irreversible medical condition” that will result in death within six months if “the progression of such condition follows its typical course.”

“I am almost 60 years old, and I have lived this long because I had been vigorously interfering with the typical course of spinal muscular atrophy,” Ludlum said. “But SB 88 says nothing about the impact of treatment on life expectancy.” 

Dr. Mark Somers, chief of cardiology services at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital, wrote to legislators that it is not his job “to decide when a patient’s death comes.”

“I cannot prevent inevitable death, but I also should and cannot morally or ethically actively participate in causing death to happen,” he wrote. “Prescribing lethal doses or combinations of medications that are lethal is illegal and unethical. Putting this responsibility in the hands of those who do prescribe legally is asking too much.”

The so-called aid in dying legislation has been raised more than a dozen times in Connecticut. It advanced beyond the Public Health Committee for the first time in 2021.

Last week, Tim Appleton, senior campaign director with Compassion and Choices, an organization in favor of the bill, said there are people with terminal illnesses who will run out of time waiting for the option until next year or later.

“For them, there is no next year,” he said.

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Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.