A Connecticut Superior Court judge has ruled against two doctors who argued that a state law against assisted suicide did not prohibit them from prescribing lethal drugs to consenting patients who were expected to die anyway.
The Hartford Courant reports that Judge Julia Aurigemma dismissed the case brought by Ronald Levine and Gary Blick, who asserted in their lawsuit against the state that “assisted suicide” is not the same thing as “aid in dying” – a claim Aurigemma flatly rejected.
“[The statute] is aimed at precisely the situation presented by the plaintiffs — aiding a terminally ill patient, in unbearable pain, to end his or her own life — and precisely the situation in which physicians are most likely to participate,” wrote Aurigemma in her decision to dismiss the case.
The suit was backed by the pro-euthanasia group, Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society). It attempted to fashion a fine distinction between assisted suicide – helping someone to commit suicide – and “aid in dying,” which the suit asserted is “the choice of a mentally competent terminally ill individual for a peaceful death” with a doctor’s prescription.
But state attorneys defending the law brought forward evidence from a commission on the statute which explicitly included the plaintiff’s contorted legal interpretation as falling under the definition of assisted suicide. That evidence showed that the statute was intended to cover circumstances where assisting an individual’s suicide “is aimed at such situations as aiding, out of the feelings of sympathy, the suicide of one inflicted with a painful and incurable disease.”
Aurigemma agreed with the state’s arguments, declaring, “the commentary to and legislative history of the statute make it quite clear that assisting a suicide, even for humanitarian reasons, is a crime.”
Aurigemma dismissed the case on the grounds that the state had “sovereign immunity” – a legal doctrine that the state is immune from civil prosecution for laws it enacts – and that the proper recourse for changing the public policy on assisted suicide lay with the Connecticut legislature.
In a commentary on the decision, Mailee Smith, staff counsel with Americans United for Life, noted that Aurigemma would not buy into arguments that assisted suicide would be anything other than how “suicide” is understood by the law and the public.
“The trial court in Connecticut has set a powerful precedent that ‘aid in dying’ — as defined and advocated by suicide proponents — is, in fact, ‘suicide’ (as the law and the American public understand the term), and that the proper place to decide such issues is in the legislature,” she remarked.
Smith also pointed out that the superior court judge said the legislature would have to consider the ramifications of legalizing physician-assisted suicide. Smith said these questions would include how assisted suicide, “threatens the most vulnerable in society;” incentivizes physicians and insurers “away from vitally important tasks such as identifying and treating depression and providing end-of-life pain control and palliative care;” compromises “the physician-patient relationship and the integrity of the medical profession;” and even may open up the possibility of “involuntary euthanasia,” which has been documented in the Netherlands.
The legal battle over the state law may not be over, as Levine and Blick, are considering the option of appeal.
The case number is HHD-CV09-5033392-S.