March 5, 2021

Dignity in Death Bill, Co-Sponsored by Senator Haskell, Passes Public Health Committee

Nearly a decade after it was first introduced, legislation today passed the Public Health Committee that would supply individuals who are suffering from a terminal diagnosis with the opportunity to voluntarily request medical assistance and comfortably end their lives. Cognizant of the issue’s long history in the General Assembly, and having heard countless stories of pain and anguish from constituents who have faced these terminal diagnoses themselves or watched their loved ones suffer, State Senator Will Haskell (D-Westport) voted for the bill and will work hard to pass it into law.

“After hearing from so many constituents who have been touched by this issue within their own family, passing this legislation is among my highest priorities. We simply need to get this done,” said Sen. Haskell. “This bill is about providing options to those who are facing the tragic reality that they have less than six months more to live. They want a chance to spend their final days in dignity and write their own last chapter. I’m grateful that the majority of my colleagues on the Public Health Committee believe that we should give them that choice. And I’m so thankful for all of the advocates and lawmakers who have worked on this issue over the course of many years. Today’s progress would not have been possible without their voices.”

House Bill No. 6425, “An Act Concerning Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Patients,” would establish strict protections to ensure that this option remains entirely voluntary and is only available to adults who are of sound mind and come to the decision on their own. Patients would be required to make three total requests to their physician, two verbal and one written, with at least 15 days between the requests, and would need multiple witnesses for the requests. They could also rescind their request at any time before medical aid is administered. A second physician would need to review the request and confirm that the patient is of sound mind and has less than six months left to live.

Nine states currently have dignity in death laws, with Oregon’s perhaps being the most notable. In 2019, according to Oregon’s annual report, 290 people received prescriptions through the program and 188 chose to end their lives. Of the individuals who chose to receive prescriptions, 75 percent were over the age of 65. Their diagnoses differed; 68 percent had cancer, with another 14 percent having neurological disease and 7 percent with respiratory disease. They largely reported loss of ability to participate in activities making life enjoyable, loss of autonomy and loss of dignity, and 89 percent lived in hospice settings. That 102 people, 35 percent of applicants, chose not to take their medication further speaks to the voluntary nature of the program.