HARTFORD, Connecticut — The debate over allowing Connecticut physicians to prescribe medication to help the terminally ill end their lives got personal on Wednesday, as past and present state legislators told emotional stories about how their loved ones handled their final days.
Various lawmakers said their personal experiences have helped to shape their opinions of the legislation, which has failed to make it out of the Public Health Committee in the last two years.
Freshman Rep. Kelly Luxenberg, D-Manchester, spoke in support of the bill. She relayed the story about how her father intentionally killed himself by drowning, after suffering with Parkinson's disease for two decades and a failed Parkinson's-related surgery.
"He never learned to swim and was intensely fearful of the water. So there is an even sadder irony in the way in which he chose to die," she told the committee. Luxenberg said it is imperative that people have choices at the end of their lives.
"Parkinson's stripped my father of a life with dignity," she said. "Wouldn't it have been great, if in death, his dignity could have been regained?"
It's unclear whether the bill will have enough votes to pass out of the committee this year. While proponents contend they've included new protections in the bill, such as preventing heirs from serving as a legal witness, opponents insist vulnerable people could still be pressured into ending their lives. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he's still struggling with the issue.
Former Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate, said he decided to speak out against the bill after his mother's recent death from cancer, as well as his father's death from AIDS about 27 years ago.
McKinney recalled how his mother felt guilty about how her illness kept him away from the campaign trail last year.
"And of course, I said to her, I'm exactly where I want to be," he said. "I saw that guilt, though, that she felt. That she might be burdening us. That she was burdening or hurting my campaign by her illness."
McKinney said he believes his mother ultimately gained control over her disease by making decisions about her own medical treatment, such as whether to have surgery or chemotherapy. He credited her hospice care workers with relieving his mother's pain and allowing her to die at home like she wanted.