I commend you for your recent coverage of the Connecticut bill which would allow “aid in dying” and which provides an outline of its salient features.
It is crucial for readers to know that a similar bill, despite its merits, has died in its infancy in the Judiciary Committee in recent years. Yes, there are those who are opposed to such measures, but it begs the question, why should “compassionate care” legislation be denied to suffering patients and families, simply because of the opposition of a few?
In a democracy, we should have the freedom to make our own healthcare choices. This bill is not frivolous. It is intended for those who have a terminal illness, whose fate has already been sealed. It allows them the choice to die with dignity, and on their own terms. With their family, and authorized practitioners, the bill allows the dying to short-circuit their suffering and pass peacefully.
The bill is written to safeguard against any potential abuse, with essential guardrails inserted into the legislation. It has been carefully crafted to support and protect the dying patient, as well as to support and protect those who love them. Contrary to some of the testimony presented in recent public hearings, “aid in dying” is not about suicide, neither does it promote it. It is simply a measure to spare a dying patient from unnecessary pain and suffering, when it has been established that no further medical treatment is available to change the outcome.
As a nurse and clinical social worker, I have worked with patients and families with end-of-life issues. It is a profoundly sad time as patients confront the reality of their own death, and family members struggle to manage their loss with the myriad feelings that accompany the experience. Family members are often exhausted, sleep deprived, and emotionally depleted in those final days. They are torn apart by the painful reality of their loved one ravaged by illness, their powerlessness, and their excruciating grief.
Is it not reasonable to provide the patient and their family a more gentle passage, one they can negotiate together with love and acceptance? And would a passing agreed upon by all, assist in the grieving process for those who are left behind? How many are left to question, in their grief, if they could have done more to assuage the suffering of their loved one?
Finally, where is it written that it is more noble to live with protracted suffering or to die a painful death? I would like to believe that our society has evolved beyond these simplistic narratives so rooted in our cultural stoicism.
As the “aid in dying” bill has ceremoniously passed to the House Judiciary Committee, I urge that our legislators take appropriate action to evaluate the details of this important legislation, conservative by all measures, and deliberately restrictive in its implementation.
This is not the same bill that has “died in committee” in the past. It merits a fresh, more enlightened, and more comprehensive assessment than it was allowed in the past. It should not be stifled by those who oppose it for personal or religious reasons. A tenet of governance is to represent the will of the people. Those who oppose “aid in dying” can simply choose to reject it, but should not stand in the way of those who consider it a compassionate measure to ease the passage of a loved one.
We cannot stand in judgment of those who seek a more gentle passage. In the wise words of Bob Marley, “He who feels it, knows it more.”
Claire Walsh of Killingworth is Chair of Democratic Women In Action.