FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Most Connecticut residents support allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients to end their lives, while fewer residents support the death penalty, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.
A bill is awaiting debate in the Connecticut General Assembly’s Public Health Committee that would allow terminally ill patients request that a doctor prescribe medication that he or she would “self-administer for aid in dying.”
"Our state has a long history of honoring personal choices, and this issue is an important one that centers on a person's individual right to decide how to die," said state Rep. Betsy Ritter (D-Waterford and Montville), one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
House Bill 5326 would apply only to adult Connecticut residents who can prove that they are of a sound mind. The person must make the request in writing, with the signatures of two witnesses. As currently written, the law would not allow a family member, guardian or other third-party to make the request on behalf of a patient.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 61 percent of likely Connecticut voters would support the bill’s intent, according to results released Thursday. Though the idea had more support among Democrats than Republicans and among more men than women, the poll’s results show a majority in favor of the concept across all demographics.
"Public support for allowing assisted dying in Connecticut is a very personal issue, crossing partisan, gender and age lines," said Douglas Schwartz director of the Quinnipiac University poll.
The results were different when respondents were asked whether they would request the service themselves. Just 33 percent of those polled said they would request the life-ending option if they had six months or less to live. Another 12 percent said they would make the request if they were experiencing pain along with the six-month prognosis, according to the poll.
The same Quinnipiac poll also showed that support for the death penalty is declining in Connecticut. About 57 percent of respondents said they supported the death penalty for those convicted of murder in this year’s poll, compared to 67 percent that said they supported it the same poll in March 2011.
The results were also evenly split when the phrasing of the question was changed to mention a 2012 law signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without parole. When asked about the law, 47 percent said they supported the law while 47 percent opposed it. Last year 51 percent opposed the law while 45 percent supported it, according to the poll data.
"As we've seen in our past polls on the death penalty, when voters are given the choice of the death penalty or life in prison with no chance of parole, support for the death penalty drops,” Schwartz said. “When asked the question this way, voters are evenly divided."