McKinney recalls mother's death in opposing right-to-die bill
Updated 7:05 am, Thursday, March 19, 2015
John McKinney of Fairfield, the former state Senate leader who lost his bid to become governor, returned to Hartford Wednesday to bring his personal perspective to the aid-in-dying legislation.
Recalling his mother's death last year from bladder and breast cancer, McKinney spoke against the bill in an emotional appearance before the legislative Judiciary Committee.
"There's a lot of talk about the need for dying with dignity," McKinney said. "My mom was as strong as anybody could get. She was able to make the decision on her own to decide `I'm not going to have surgery. I'm not going to have chemotherapy. I'm going to live the rest of my life out no matter how long I have, making those decisions.'"
McKinney said that his mother, Lucie Cunningham McKinney, a Westport resident and the wife of the late longtime U.S. Rep. Stewart B. McKinney, had in-home hospice care that allowed her to be pain-free.
"They were extraordinary people who did extraordinary work and one of my messages to you today is that we need to make sure that hospice and palliative care is available to anyone who wants it and needs it," McKinney said.
During a day-long public hearing on the issue before the Judiciary Committee, residents on both sides of the issue spoke on the bill, which has failed in the previous two legislative sessions.
Charles Silbert, a 74-year-old prostate cancer patient from Ridgefield, said he's not sure how his death will feel, but he wants the option to avoid excessive pain, keep his dignity and die peacefully at home.
Under the proposal, competent terminally ill patients with six months or less to live would write two petitions with 15 days to obtain lethal drugs that they would take to bring about their deaths.
Dr. Robert Russo, president of the Connecticut State Medical Society, told the committee that pain management can be used for people with and without cognitive problems. "We took an oath that said we would not poison a patient," he said.
The legislation would also require death certificates to indicate the causes of death were from the underlying terminal conditions.
McKinney, the former GOP Senate leader who appeared as a private citizen, said his mother's doctors varied in their estimate of how long she would live after her initial diagnosis in February of last year, from a year to five years. She died in May at age 80.
"Nobody is willing to say we know when the end of life is coming," said McKinney, adding that he believes two years ago, his mother might have testified in favor of the aid-in-dying bill. "I'm also concerned about the decision making process."
State Rep. William Tong, co-chairman of the committee, welcomed McKinney back to the Legislature, which he left to seek the Republican nomination for governor last year. Tong agreed that it will be intensely personal decisions for members of the committee and possibly the rest of the General Assembly if the bill moves forward.
"It's also incumbent on us to take a step back and to think about the broader policy considerations," Tong said, noting that supporters of the bill are seeking options. "Ought they not have the right to choose and to make a choice that is right for themselves and their families?"
"I struggle with that too," McKinney replied. "That my mother decided to forgo treatment was her decision, but that was dramatically different than my mother asking a doctor to end her life."