AP NEWS

Tony Award-winning CT actor pushes for aid in dying

March 28, 2019

HARTFORD — A small group of activists, led by a Tony Award-winning actor who watched his wife of 50 years waste away from pancreatic cancer, made a last-minute plea on Thursday for aid-in-dying legislation.

But the bill, which has failed during legislative sessions dating back to the mid-1990s, might be on life support in the Public Health Committee.

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Actor James Naughton of Weston joined advocates including Sharon Hines of Middletown, a stage IV lung-cancer patient, stressing that terminally ill patients deserve the option to end their suffering.

“We told that it’s closer than it’s ever been, by a lot,” Naughton said during a late morning interview in the cafeteria of the Legislative Office Building, where the group huddled at a table to discuss strategy.

“One or two votes,” Naughton said. “If we do that, I think we’ve got it. It seems kind of cruelly ironic that at a time when nationally the latest Gallup Poll says that 72 percent of Americans are in favor of this legislation, that this committee might not allow a vote in the House, again. That doesn’t seem really fair to me.”

“It’s really a grassroots effort,” Hines said. “It’s not been a major campaign, but really people hearing about it, people supporting it are letting their legislators know that it’s important to them.” Hines said she wants the option if she needs it, if she becomes more ill.

The committee co-chairman, state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, said the bill will be on the agenda Friday, but with the deadline to act next week, he may not ask the 26-member panel to debate it until then, to possibly give the advocates more time to change minds if it looks like it might not pass on Friday.

“I think it’s very much up in the air,” Steinberg said Thursday afternoon. “It’s one of those controversial subjects that people feel passionate about on both sides.”

Opposition is mostly based on religious beliefs, and part of the medical community that believes modern drugs can relieve most of the pain for the terminally ill.

The bill, which failed to survive the committee process in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 would allow terminally-ill patients get medications from their doctors to end their lives. New Jersey recently passed similar legislation.

“There are folks on this committee who still are saying to us ‘Oh maybe there should be a few more safeguards, a few more provisions,’” said Naughton, who won a 1990 Tony Award for the musical City of Angels. “Well okay, vote it out of committee and we can continue the conversation, because if you don’t, it’s going to end again and we can’t address those issues again for another session or two, and it could be too late for a lot of people.”

“It may be too late for me,” Hines said. “I may not be here next year.”

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter:@KenDixonCT