Compassion and Choices Connecticut campaign director Tim Appleton’s recent statewide walk was billed as a “listening tour.” But how much of Appleton’s excursion was about “listening?”

As reported on the organization’s own Facebook page, it was a carefully curated series of events and stops including only the strongest supporters of medical assisted suicide, most of them from Connecticut’s wealthiest communities, such as Westport. If there was actual dialogue with those who might have been skeptical or opposed, it isn’t mentioned.

Joan Cavanaugh

If Appleton et al. could stop talking and indeed practice listening, they might discover realities about the experiences of ordinary people that would be inconvenient to their mission.

Progressives Against Medical Assisted Suicide (PAMAS) formed because our members learned from experience that the lives of the elderly, disabled, poor, and seriously ill are always at risk under our for-profit, discriminatory medical institutions and insurance companies that maximize their financial gain by paying for the least expensive health care options.  

In addition, documented cultural attitudes and prejudices among many providers make them balk at offering life-sustaining care for the old, severely disabled, or very ill, claiming that these patients have no “quality of life” and would be better off dead. The “right to die” is really the “duty to die,” a message the patient easily absorbs.

Our experiences taught us that it is dangerous public policy to enable medical providers to prescribe lethal drugs to end patients’ lives. Many of our group have suffered relentless pressure from the medical system to end treatment for family and friends.

We have lived with the trauma of having to fight for decent health care for our loved ones with serious or terminal illnesses. But our experience-based objections to medical assisted suicide are trivialized by supporters as isolated or irrelevant. Even medically assisted suicide supporters who agree that the medical system is broken, profit-driven, and discriminatory seem to think that the “safeguards” written into these laws magically protect patients and caregivers from abuse and coercion — a conclusion that makes no logical sense.

Supporters also ignore the fact that once the laws are passed, Compassion and Choices and other proponents immediately spring into action to expand their reach by trying to remove state residency requirements, enlarge the categories of eligible patients, weaken already inadequate safeguards, and widen the circle of providers who can prescribe the drugs. We have seen their efforts become increasingly successful in states where medical assisted suicide is legal.

Leaders of Compassion and Choices like to claim that conservative religious bodies are the only opponents of the assisted suicide laws that it spends many millions of dollars yearly to promote. This convenient lie is part of the organization’s larger marketing strategy, which has co-opted the terms “autonomy” and “choice” from the reproductive rights movement to appeal to liberals and progressives.

PAMAS supports universal, comprehensive, unrestricted, fully accessible, quality healthcare for all. Our members advocate for reproductive rights; disability justice; labor rights; the rights of LGBTQIA people; well-paid jobs for all; and prison and police reform. Some are lifelong peace and anti-nuclear activists. Some worked to help repeal Connecticut’s death penalty. We all believe that those who stand for economic and social justice must stand with equal conviction against MAS and its inevitable successor, active euthanasia.

When those who share our beliefs about social justice are allowed to think about the question more deeply, away from the highly personalized “my life, my death, my choice” hype promoted by the leading advocates of these laws, they often change their minds. They come to understand that this is not merely a personal choice affecting one individual.

If you are white, affluent, relatively robust and/or non-disabled, if you have never experienced coercion to end the life of a loved one by withholding or removing care, you may have no concept of the implications of these laws. But our experiences are real, they happened to us, and they have caused us as much pain, fear, and trauma as that felt by those who regularly testify in support of MAS.

We respect those individuals who speak from a place of deep pain that we know all too well. But just as we empathize with their personal losses, we ask them to look at the larger picture that we have been forced to face. Holding up this mirror year after year is not easy for us, either. But we have done so for decades, and, if indeed another medical assisted suicide bill is introduced into the CT State Legislature in 2024, we will do so again.

Despite the marketing ploys of Compassion and Choices, these laws are a sure — and unchosen — death sentence for many of us. We ask the truly compassionate to listen to and consider the realities the rest of us face before joining the chorus to support them.

Joan Cavanagh of New Haven is a member of Progressives Against Medically Assisted Suicide.