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Connecticut committee defeats aid in dying bill in parliamentary tactic

The Connecticut State Capitol Building in Hartford
Sage Ross
The Connecticut state Capitol building in Hartford

A bill that would allow terminally ill adults in Connecticut to request medication to help them die was suddenly derailed Monday by an unusual parliamentary procedure during a committee vote.

Advocates had expressed optimism this would finally be the year, after roughly a decade of emotional debate, the legislation would be voted on by the full House of Representatives and Senate and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont.

However, Rep. Craig Fishbein, a Republican from Wallingford and the top House member on the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee, made a motion to “divide the committee.” That meant only senators on the panel could vote on the legislation. In Connecticut, committees are comprised of both House and Senate members.

Ultimately, the senators defeated the bill on a 5-4 vote. Democratic Sen. Mae Flexer of Windham voted with the four Republicans in opposing the measure.

“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," said Tim Appleton, campaign director for the advocacy group Compassion & Choices, arguing there's strong support among Connecticut residents for the bill. He predicted Monday's vote will mean “immeasurable suffering" for terminally ill people who won't be able to wait for another legislative session for the bill to pass.

He said proponents plan to continue to advocate for the legislation, which had already cleared the General Assembly's Public Health Committee last month.

Sen. John Kissel, a Republican from Enfield and the top GOP senator on the Judiciary committee, voted against the bill, calling it “horrible public policy.” He instead suggested the state work to improve heath care and adequately fund hospice care.

“I just think that we're a better society than this,” he said.

In an emotional address to his fellow committee members, Sen. Gary Winfield, a Democrat from New Haven and the panel's co-chair, acknowledged he would have opposed the legislation years ago. However, the painful suffering that his late mother had to endure nearly a decade ago changed his mind.

“Even if you've experienced death before," he said, “one horrible death can change all that.”

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