By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Two Connecticut physicians are asking the state to decide on the meaning of “suicide” in order to be able to assist their mentally competent but terminally ill patients to die if they so desire.
The case, known as Blick vs. Connecticut, was brought Dr. Gary Blick, a Norwalk physician who specializes in infectious diseases, and Dr. Ron Levine, of Greenwich, Connecticut.
During a Nov. 7 news conference, Dr. Blick said that as it stands today, state law allows “terminal sedation” as the only way a dying patient can be killed. Any other way of assisting them in dying is considered “assisting a suicide” which is punishable by law.
Dr. Blick says he was prompted to file the suit because of recent experiences with patients of his, whom he wishes he could help more than what’s being allowed under current law.
“I’ve heard many patients beg me to help them ease their suffering and aid them in their dying, but until today the only choice currently available to Connecticut patients is prolonged and unrelieved anguish or terminal sedation,” Dr. Blick said.
There have been a number of widely publicized cases in Connecticut of family members or friends who helped a patient die only because they were unable to turn to their physician for help.
One of those cases concerned John Welles, who was dying of cancer in 2004 when he decided he’d had enough. While struggling outside on his walker, he asked a friend, Hunt Williams, to carry his loaded .38 caliber revolver. Hunt agreed, handing the gun to his friend, then walking down the road a bit before calling out “God bless.” A moment later, the gun went off, ending Welles life. A year later, Williams was convicted of “assisting a suicide.”
Speaking at the press conference, Williams said he believes the law should be changed to allow doctors to end the lives of their terminally ill and mentally competent adults who wish to die.
“John Welles should not have had to shoot himself,” Williams said. “John Welles was dying of cancer and should have been able to have his doctor prescribe medication to ease his dying. Friends, family and neighbors should not have to be put in the position that I was placed in. Medical professionals should be able to provide medical assistance for a peaceful end, and ease the dying of cancer and leukemia patients.”
Kathryn Tucker, the Denver-based legal director of the advocacy group Compassion and Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society, said the lawsuit is the first of its kind and will attack Connecticut law as antiquated at a time when providing aid in dying may be both ethically and medically appropriate.
While courts have addressed constitutional questions connected with aid in dying, no court has directly considered whether a mentally competent, terminally ill patient’s desire to bring about a peaceful death should be considered “suicide.” If the Connecticut courts decide that aid in dying is different from assisted suicide, it could have national ramifications, potentially opening the door to physician assisted suicide, albeit by another name, in other states.
Opponents of assisted suicide, or aid in dying, cite the many serious problems occurring in the two U.S. states that allow assisted suicide and countries where assisted suicide is legal. For instance, a 1995 Dutch study found that 948 patients who did not request suicide were killed by their doctors.
There are also innumerable problems with the legal definition of “terminal” which has allowed many patients to commit suicide who were not dying but suffering from depression.
Pro-euthanasia groups usually cite humane reasons for ending someone’s life to gain public sympathy; however, today’s palliative care is so advanced that virtually all pain can be eliminated with the proper care. Even in those cases when pain cannot be completely alleviated, it can be reduced significantly if properly treated.
People can die with dignity naturally, without having to resort to killing.
“Intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder,” the Catechism teaches. “It is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the Living God, his Creator.”
“The church’s position is very clear that we regard life as sacred and it should be protected from conception until natural death,” said Michael Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference.
“Whether it’s euthanasia, death-with-dignity or doctor-assisted suicide, I think you’re playing with semantics,” he said.
Get the facts on assisted suicide at
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