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Physician-Assisted Suicide Up For Debate In Conn.

Hospital Bed (credit: CBS 2)

Hospital Bed (credit: CBS 2)

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HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Lawmakers in Connecticut are again taking up the issue of physician-assisted suicide.

Democratic State Senator Ed Meyer of Guilford said assisted suicide is a topic often raised by his constituents, so he drafted a measure that he believes contains every safeguard.

“Two physicians will have to certify, in writing, under oath, that their patient is terminally ill and is likely to die within the next six months,” Meyers told WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau. “And that their patient is mentally competent to make an informed decision about deciding whether or not to die.”

A similar bill was proposed in 2009.

Meyer concedes that there is a lot of opposition from the Catholic church, but said he’s encouraged that there will be a public hearing scheduled on assisted suicide legislation for the first time in the state’s history.

Proponents said they see strong support for allowing doctors to prescribe mentally competent, dying individuals with the medications needed to take their own lives.

“The deep yearning for increasing autonomy for patients themselves to have a voice, I think now it’s reaching a tipping point all across the world,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, an Oregon resident and president of Compassion & Choices, a national end-of-life advocacy organization. “I think the Baby Boomer generation has something to do with that.”

Dr. Gary Blick, a Norwalk physician who specializes in treating patients with HIV and AIDS, said he believes the time is right for state lawmakers to push ahead with this issue. In 2009, he and Dr. Ron Levine, of Greenwich, along with end-of-life advocates, sued to seek a clarification of the state’s decades-old ban on assisted suicide, citing concerns about Connecticut doctors being prosecuted for giving medications to their dying patients.

Blick said not every dying patient will want the ability to take their own life, but he said they should be given the choice.

“This is not for everybody. We do realize there are people that do not believe in this for religious beliefs, and I respect that. There are no issues over that,” he said. “But there are those subsets of people that do not want to go through the suffering that they have to go through.”

But Family Institute Executive Director Peter Wolfgang has said the reality of physician-assisted suicides is far from peaceful. He is urging lawmakers to instead fund cutting-edge pain management techniques.

And Cathy Ludlum, of Manchester, a disabled-rights activist who has spinal muscular atrophy, said she is concerned the Public Health Committee has decided to hold the public hearing and worries the issue of doctor-assisted suicide will not go away soon.

“Until people are really educated about the issues, it’s going to keep coming up, even if it’s defeated this time,” she said, adding how she wants lawmakers to focus more on “giving people a good life than giving people a good death.”

Two years ago, two doctors and end-of-life rights advocates sued Connecticut seeking clarification of a decades-old ban against physician-assisted suicide. The case was dismissed.

Currently, Montana, Oregon and Washington are the only states that permit physician-assisted suicide.
Connecticut banned the practice since 1969.

The 1969 law states that a person who “intentionally causes or aids another person, other than by force, duress or deception, to commit suicide” is guilty of second-degree manslaughter.

Do you support a law permitting physician-assisted suicide in Connecticut? Sound off in the comments section below…

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