01/29/14

Supporters Urge Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill

button-175The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut joined other supporters of aid-in-dying legislation at a news conference Wednesday to urge legislators to allow terminally ill, mentally competent patients to choose death with dignity.

The news conference, arranged by Compassion & Choices of Connecticut and state Rep. Betsy Ritter, featured remarks from medical professionals, clergy, relatives and others. Among the speakers was Sara Meyers, a Connecticut resident diagnosed with ALS who described the inexorable progress of her disease.

“I wake up every morning with hope not for a cure but for strength, that I’ll have enough strength to deal with the continuing erosion of my body,” she said. “I wish I had the choice to have help, when enough is enough, to end my suffering.”

Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, expressed strong support for legislation modeled on laws in Oregon, Washingon and Vermont. His remarks:

The right to self-determination, so honored in our culture and our Constitution, should be honored to the very end of life. The ability to make our own decisions so that we may preserve our dignity and autonomy should not be taken away from us. As long as we are competent to decide for ourselves how much suffering we will endure when death approaches, nobody else should decide that for us.

That’s why the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut supports aid-in-dying legislation. We believe it’s necessary to guarantee individual autonomy, privacy and dignity. We believe that the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment includes the liberty to make personal and intimate decisions about how to die.

Since 1997, adults in Oregon suffering from advanced terminal illness have had access to voluntary, safe and legal medical assistance in dying. Washington adopted a similar law in 2009 and Vermont did the same last year. These laws have been used sparingly yet they have provided immeasurable comfort to those who deserve and need it.

This is something we may not fully understand until we see someone we love endure an agonizing death, or until we face that prospect ourselves. But we understand it enough to do the right thing.

Connecticut has another chance this year to join the states that have shown this mercy and respect to their residents. The means have been carefully structured and thoroughly tested. It’s time to act.

At the news conference, Compassion & Choices of Connecticut unveiled a portrait installation for the state Capitol building of photographs and quotes from aid-in-dying supporters from across the state. They include Isa Mujahid, field organizer for the ACLU of Connecticut; Cynara Stites, a member of the state board; and Michael Westerfield, president of the Northeast Connecticut chapter.