Bench Memos

Assisted-Suicide Advocates Fail in Connecticut

On Monday, a Connecticut trial court rejected an attempt by suicide advocates to legalize physician-assisted suicide when it dismissed a petition from two physicians.

In Blick v. Connecticut, the plaintiffs had argued that the state’s manslaughter statute, which explicitly criminalizes aiding another person “in suicide,” should not apply to physicians who provide “aid in dying” by enabling their patients to do just that (by prescribing lethal drugs).

The court ruled that — despite the semantic ploy of using the term “aid in dying” to describe “the choice of a mentally competent terminally ill individual” to end his or her life — “aid in dying” constitutes “suicide.” Looking back at the history of the Connecticut manslaughter statute, the court found that official comments by the statute’s drafters “make it quite clear” that the prohibition was intended to include physician-assisted suicide. This conclusion is bolstered by the fact that suicide advocates have tried and repeatedly failed to amend the statute.

Further, the court held that the proper consideration of the physician-assisted suicide issue rests with the legislature, not with the court. The court noted specific medical, legal, and ethical considerations that must be considered by a legislature, including:

  • Whether physician-assisted suicide threatens the most vulnerable in society;
  • Whether physician-assisted suicide shifts the focus of physicians and insurers away from vitally important tasks such as identifying and treating depression and providing end-of-life pain control and palliative care;
  • Whether physician-assisted suicide undermines the physician-patient relationship and the integrity of the medical profession; and
  • Whether physician-assisted suicide opens the door to the possibility of involuntary euthanasia, as has occurred in the Netherlands.

The decision stands in stark contrast to a case recently litigated and decided in Montana. In Baxter v. Montana, a plaintiff brought suit claiming that physician-assisted suicide is a constitutional right under the state constitution and that the state homicide law should not be interpreted to prohibit physician-assisted suicide. The trial court, without examining the potential harms from assisted suicide or whether or not such harms can truly be safeguarded against, concluded that physician-assisted suicide is a right and went so far as to instruct the legislature to implement it — clearly overstepping its bounds and demonstrating the court’s lack of appreciation for its role and the role of the legislature.

The Supreme Court in Montana did not uphold this decision, but its decision failed to take adequately into consideration the significant risks involved in physician-assisted suicide to vulnerable persons, including the elderly and disabled; the proper role of the legislature; and the fact that suicide advocates in Montana had not been successful in getting the legislature to enact pro-suicide legislation.

In other words, the two court decisions in Montana lacked the deference and insight that we saw in the Connecticut decision on Monday.

The Connecticut decision is a clear signal to suicide advocates to take their semantic games elsewhere. And they will. Other states, such as Idaho, already appear to be in the cross-hairs of suicide advocates’ propaganda. But the Connecticut decision establishes strong precedent for the majority of states where assisted suicide is criminalized or prohibited: “aid in dying” is, in fact, “suicide,” and the proper place to decide such issues is in the legislature.

William L. Saunders is senior vice president of Americans United for Life. Mailee R. Smith is staff counsel at that organization.

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