A key advocate at the center of efforts to pass legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to take a lethal dose of medication is crisscrossing the state on foot with a goal of trekking 300 miles to raise awareness for the cause.
Tim Appleton is the senior campaign director for the Compassion and Choices Action Network, which advocates for the so-called aid in dying legislation. By Thursday morning, he had walked about 90 miles, as far east as Willington and as far south as New London.
Donning a bright yellow vest with the phrase “ASK ME ABOUT AID IN DYING” scrawled across the back, Appleton pauses occasionally to talk to residents about the push to pass the bill. He stops at diners and coffee shops along his route, hosting discussions on the issue and promoting the talks on social media.
“I started doing a lot of walking back in March, and by May or June I looked at my phone and I realized I’d walked like 400 miles,” he said in an interview. “And then it connected in my mind — Hey, [U.S. Sen.] Chris Murphy does something like that. I thought, well, I wonder if I could do this for aid in dying.”
Appleton walks six days a week, rain or shine. At the beginning of last week, during the first day of his journey, he covered over 10 miles in the rain.
Sometimes lawmakers join him. Sen. Saud Anwar, a co-chair of the public health committee and a physician, walked several miles one day last week. On another leg of the trip, Appleton was joined by a 71-year-old man whose wife had died of terminal cancer.
On Thursday, he started his day at 7 a.m. in Glastonbury and by 1 p.m. reached the state Capitol, where he fielded questions from reporters. He expected to hit 100 miles — a third of his target — by the end of the day.
Appleton said Connecticut has a “broken status quo” when it comes end-of-life care.
“If I’m terminally ill, have less than six months to live and want more options than this state allows, I have to seek that care somewhere else,” he said.
Legislators including Anwar, Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield, co-chair of the health committee, Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, Rep. Jason Doucette, D-Manchester and Rep. Mike Demicco, D-Farmington, gathered with Appleton Thursday in front of the Capitol to promote the effort.
“We have had many years of conversations around this difficult topic,” Anwar said. “We have been unable to pass this bill … and one of the reasons is that not enough people are aware of this issue to the level they need to [be]. … Literally, every single person in the state of Connecticut is one painful death of a loved one away from being on board. Except we don’t have time to wait for everybody to have that experience.”
The aid in dying bill has been raised more than a dozen times in Connecticut. In 2021, for the first time, it was voted out of the Public Health Committee. The committee advanced the measure again in 2022 and this year, but all three times, it has hit a roadblock in the Judiciary Committee. Some years, members of Judiciary have declined to vote on the bill. In 2022, they split the committee, allowing only members of one chamber to cast a vote.
Many oppose the bill.
Advocates for people with disabilities say the proposal puts vulnerable residents at great risk.
“The very real likelihood of misdiagnosis, misprognosis, abuse and error is just enormous,” Cathy Ludlum, head of the grassroots organization Second Thoughts Connecticut, told The Connecticut Mirror in 2022. “And when a life is ended, you can’t go back and say, ‘Whoops, that was a mistake.’”
“We in the disability community have to keep saying that we don’t want to get in the way of anyone’s personal choice,” she said. “But when that choice becomes a threat to us, we have to stand up and say no.”
Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican, said during a debate this year that legalizing aid in dying may put pressure on some people to end their lives.
“In talking about those who are in their older years, who have worked [throughout] their lives to try to hand something down to their loved ones — now they’re lying there and thinking, I’m in pain. It’s hard to go day to day. And every day that I live is less I get to bequeath to my spouse, to my loved one, to my children,” he said. “So what kind of pressure is going to be on that individual if we say as a society, ‘It’s OK to take your own life’? I’d say for most people, that’s not a huge factor, but for some, it will be.”
At least 10 states and Washington D.C. allow aid in dying, including Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, Montana and New Mexico.
Appleton said despite next year being a short legislative session (four months instead of six), he hopes lawmakers can nudge the bill farther.
Proponents said they hope the Public Health and Judiciary committees will hold a joint hearing so members of the latter group can hear from the public on this topic.
With a hearing, “members of that committee can hear everything we have heard, year after year after year, and tell others that they can’t find a way to make this possible,” said Steinberg, a former co-chair of the health committee.
For now, Appleton will continue walking and talking to people along the way. He was headed to a coffee shop in West Hartford later Thursday for another group discussion.
“We’re asking people that say, ‘What can we do to help?’ to reach out to their lawmakers and say, ‘This bill must be heard in the Judiciary Committee,’” he said.
“Issues of social change are difficult in any state legislature. When Maine passed their bill, it took 25 years; California took 20; New Jersey took eight. … We owe it to those who have died waiting for this option to find a way to keep coming back.”