HARTFORD, Conn. — At 63, Sharon Hines of Middletown has been dealing with stage 4 lung cancer since 2008. “I’ve gotten way more life than anyone ever thought possible,” she said.

But in January, Hines learned that the metastatic disease in her brain had begun to grow again. “I’m running out of acceptable treatment options,” she said. “I don’t know what the next months are going to bring for me.”

Hines was one of dozens of people who came to the Legislative Office Building Monday to press for a law that would allow physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill patients with less than six months to live. House Bill 5898 was the subject of a polarizing and emotional public hearing before the legislature’s public health committee.

Prior to the hearing, opponents of the bill, including disability rights advocates, held a news conference to voice their criticism of the measure.

“When you hear heart-wrenching stories about pain and suffering being the reason, the facts do not bear that out,” said Brian Callister, a physician from Nevada. “Is the choice of a few people gong to dictate negative consequences for society as a whole?”

Critics such as Callister said they fear the legislation allows for too many opportunities for coercion and abuse, especially for people with disabilities and other vulnerable patients. Instead of giving the terminally ill access to life-ending doses of medicine, steps should to be taken to bolster palliative care and minimize pain, they said.


“Non-disabled people have come up to me and said ‘Oh you’re so brave but I’d rather be dead than to be like you,”’ said Elaine Kolb of West Haven, who suffered a serious spinal injury since she was stabbed in the back more than four decades ago. “People with disabilities are devalued. But please keep your poison pills – provide good palliative care … but allow us people with disabilities to live with dignity.”

Rep. Vin Candelora, a Republican from North Branford, also spoke out against the measure.

“It has been distressing to me that we are seeing a culture of death in our public health committee,” Candelora said at the news conference prior to the hearing. “We are attacking pregnancy centers that have focused on life and we are now turning toward end of (life) process. We are essentially telling people their lives are not worth living … so it makes me sad and it does give me pleasure to stand here in support of the individuals who are opposing this legislation.”

Six states – Oregon, California, Colorado, Vermont, Hawaii and Washington – currently have laws that permit aid in dying. Earlier this month, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill that would allow terminally ill adults to obtain a doctor’s prescription for drugs to end their lives. A companion measure is pending in the state Senate.

In Connecticut, the legislature’s public health committee has considered similar measures four times since 2014, but it has never received a vote by either the committee or the legislature as a whole.

Activists said they are unsure of the bill’s fate this year, but they note two big obstacles to its passage have been eliminated. One is the opposition of some state medical societies around the nation, including in Connecticut.


This year, the society is remaining neutral on the issue.

The second is a change in the governor’s office: former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had long expressed ambivalence about such legislation, helping to stall its progress. The current governor, Ned Lamont, was asked if he would support aid-in-dying legislation during a debate before the November election. “I think I would,” Lamont responded.

Hines and other advocates said there are adequate safeguards to prevent family members or others from trying to coerce ailing patients. As an oncology nurse practitioner who has cared for patients with advanced cancer, she has seen the harrowing effects of the disease in others.

“The pain and suffering that accompanies advanced cancer is frequently unavoidable,” she said. “I have been at the bedside of enough dying patients … to know that despite the best hospice care, not all pain can be controlled.”

Hines said a terminal diagnosis brings a great deal of fear and anxiety.

“It’s not only about how will I die or when will I die but how much suffering will I have to endure,” she said. “I want to die in my own home on my own terms.”

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