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Grieving family members plead for CT legislators to pass Aid in Dying bill

Deb Howland Murray and her son, Galen, embrace in the State Capitol after hanging a poster of husband and father, David Murray, alongside more than a dozen portraits hung by loved ones supporting the right to medical aid in dying.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Deb Howland Murray and her son, Galen, embrace in the state Capitol after hanging a poster of husband and father David Murray alongside more than a dozen portraits hung by loved ones supporting the right to medical aid in dying. About her husband, Deb said, “David wasn’t afraid of death, he faced it with a tremendously positive attitude. And his wish ... was to die the way he wanted to die, with his family and in our home of 34 years. Instead, it was a very, very difficult experience.”

Advocates of the proposed Aid in Dying billmade an emotional plea to state legislators in Hartford on Wednesday to approve the legislation, introduced 15 times in Connecticut in the last nearly 30 years.

Jennifer Barahona, a social worker in Fairfield, was back again at the legislature this year to share her mother’s story.

Barahona lost her mother to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a fatal disease with no cure, according to the Mayo Clinic. In the end, people with ALS lose movement, speech, the ability to eat and to even breathe.

With her mother’s consent, conveyed via an affirmative blink, Barahona said, she and her siblings withdrew nourishment from her feeding tube on Sept. 2, 2009, and their mother died a slow, painful death 16 days later.

“I want you to imagine looking into your own beloved mother’s eyes, while she pleads with you for over two weeks, with little to offer but, ‘It will be over soon,’” Barahona said. “Eventually her strong body gave out with none of her six children by her side in the middle of the night. And the only thing that haunts me more than her eyes, pleading with me, is I wasn’t with her to hold her hand as she had done for me my whole life, during her final moments.”

Dr. Saud Anwar, Senate chair of the Public Health Committee, said the latest version of the bill addresses legal concerns raised by the Judiciary Committee last year to minimize the risk of misuse.

Republican state senator John Kissel (Enfield) is concerned that older adults would feel the pressure to end their lives, rather than pay for expensive terminal medical care. 

“The bill that we are looking at this year is going to be very different from the ones for the past many years,” Anwar said.

Under the medical part of the bill, patients with a terminal illness must submit two written requests to their physician, with a gap of at least 15 days. Two witnesses who are neither immediate family members nor beneficiaries of the patient’s estate at the time of death are required to witness the written request.

Aid in dying legislation is authorized in Washington, D.C., and 10 states, including Maine and Vermont.

Tim Appleton, Connecticut campaign director of Compassion & Choice, said that nationally, there is no evidence of legal or medical misuse in states where aid in dying is legal.

“It’s a very, very few people that qualify, very, very few people who are interested in the law and take steps to speak to their physicians and begin the process, it’s a fewer and fewer group that actually make it through the process, it’s a fewer group that are written the prescription,” Appleton said. “And in the end, since 1997, just over 5,000 people have ingested this medication.”

In response to the Judiciary Committee not advancing the bill in April 2022, Appleton said in a statement: “It says a lot about support for medical aid in dying both inside and outside the Capitol that opponents had to resort to a rarely-used parliamentary maneuver to defeat the legislation [not allowing House committee members to vote after Senate committee members voted 5-4 not to pass the bill].”

He said 75% of Connecticut residents support aid in dying legislation.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.