Tag Archives: Deb Howland-Murray

[OPINION] “Aid in Dying” Bill Affects Us All

Deb Howland-Murray read the recent “06880” story about Lynda Bluestein — the local woman who will be the first non-resident to take advantage of Vermont’s law that allows people with terminal illnesses to end their own lives — with interest.

Deb is a longtime Westporter (and current Black Rock resident) who has a personal interest in the issue. She writes:

For all of us who read the moving post about Lynda Bluestein, there’s much more to her story — and the stories of many other folks in her situation.

My husband was one of them. He died a painful death in an institution, rather than peacefully in his beloved home on Cross Highway as he had wished. He died waiting for Connecticut to offer the same option Ms. Bluestein will take advantage of in Vermont at the end of her life.

Deb Howland-Murray drew this portrait of herself and her husband Dave from a photo, about a month into his illness.

A Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Westport member, Lynda, who is terminally ill, has received special dispensation to avail herself of Vermont’s Aid in Dying law.

Connecticut has not yet added ourselves to the 11 jurisdictions that have passed Aid in Dying legislation, but that may soon change.

As someone who grew up in Westport since the age of 15 months and lived there most of my life, I think it’s important that Westporters know about our state’s Senate Bill 1076: An Act Concerning Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill (SB 1076).

Two weeks ago, SB 1076 was successfully moved forward, from the Legislature’s Public Health Committee to the Judiciary Committee. Over the course of the 15 years that Aid in Dying has been proposed in Connecticut, the bill has been honed to address concerns posed by our legislators.

According to a 2021 GQR poll Aid in Dying is now supported by 77% of CT voters across demographics of race, ability, age, gender, religion, educational attainment and political affiliation.

Westport’s State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and Senator Cece Maher belong to that 77%. I do too.

Lynda Bluestein and her husband Paul. She will be the first out-of-state resident to take advantage of Vermont’s Aid in Dying law. (Photo courtesy of NBC Connecticut)

My aim here is not to convince, but to ensure that Westporters know the basic facts of a bill that ultimately affects every Westporter.

No one is ever required to choose Aid in Dying. But if it is an individual’s choice to obtain relief under SB 1076, these requirements must be met:

  • Be a Connecticut resident of at least 1, year aged 21 or older
  • Be terminally ill, with a prognosis of 6 months or less to live
  • Be mentally capable, and making an informed healthcare decision
  • 2 written requests are required, with a 15-day waiting period between the first and second. Two people must witness each written request.
  • Prescribing physicians must comply with medical record documentation requirements, and make records available to the state Department of Jealth.

Key provisions include:

  • The individual must be able to self-administer the medication.
  • Two physicians must confirm that the person is terminally ill with a prognosis of 6 months or less to live, mentally capable and not being coerced.
  • A terminally ill person can withdraw their request for medication, not take the medication once they have it, or otherwise change their mind at any point.
  • The attending physician must inform the requesting individual about all end-of-life care options, including hospice and palliative care.
  • Medication cannot be prescribed until mental capacity to make a healthcare decision is confirmed by a licensed mental health specialist.
  • Physicians who participate and comply with all aspects of the law are given civil and criminal immunity.
  • Life insurance payments cannot be denied to the families of those who use the law.
  • No physician, health provider or pharmacist is required to participate.
  • Unused medication must be disposed of according to specified state and federal guidelines.

Knowledge is power. The Judiciary Committee will vote on SB 1076 soon, the outcome of which will determine whether or not it reaches the General Assembly.

I urge you to think about this bill. Whatever you feel about it, let Westport’s legislators hear from you.

Winslow Park Plea: Dirt Bikers, Clean Up After Yourselves!

Deb Howland-Murray calls herself “a portrait artist who benefited tremendously from growing up in Westport’s artistic environment. After a sojourn for college and adventures, I returned to Westport. I have lived here for the past 35 years.” 

She writes:

Each spring people pour out of their houses and into nature, shedding months of cold the way a snake sheds its skin.

This year brings new significance to this outdoor migration: a heightened longing for beauty and distraction in the spring of COVID-19.

Maybe that’s why so many people flock to Winslow Park. They come not only to walk dogs, but to enjoy its 28 acres of sunny fields and dense woods. They are parents with children riding scooters and bikes, joggers, couples sitting in conversation on the park’s benches, and teenagers anxious to try their skills on the dirt bike jumps in one of the forested, trail-laced sections of the park.

The Winslow Park dirt bike course. (Photo/Deb Howland-Murray)

Winslow is a treasure. Now more than ever, it’s a breath of fresh air literally and figuratively. I’ve watched it come to life this spring, delighted in April’s little purple flowers, the massive trees leafing out in May, the fields that now read yellow with buttercups.

These are such a sharp contrast to the trash, broken glass and empty vape boxes carpeting the dirt bike section of the park.

Vape boxes litter the dirt bike area. (Photo/Deb Howland-Murray)

I like to watch the teenagers barreling down the course’s steep hill and becoming airborne on the ascent. But it saddens me that the fun is coupled with such disrespect for the surrounding environment, one that’s dotted with wonderful examples of human creativity as well as natural beauty.

The dirt bike course was created by enterprising teenagers, and adjacent to it there is a remarkable lean-to someone made from large branches. Next to the lean-to, a picnic table waits invitingly in the shade. I’ve seen people meditating there.

But who would want to stop there now? Who could bring their small children to play among the empty cans and vape boxes? Which paw will be the first to be sliced by glass shards? When will an unknowing puppy be drawn to the scent of food on a snack wrapper and make the unfortunate mistake of swallowing it?

Trash left on tables. The lean-to is in the back. (Photo/Deb Howland-Murray)

Don’t get me wrong. I love teenagers; I raised 5 of them. An avid skier and hunter-jumper rider, I’m all for the excitement of speed and the joy of flying through the air. I want the kids to have fun in the park. They seem like good kids, wearing their helmets and respectfully keeping a physical distance when they meet others on the trails. They’re polite.

I’m happy that they have a safe, outdoor place to congregate in small numbers at such a difficult and disappointing time to be a teenager. And I’m not interested in passing judgment on what they might or might not be drinking or smoking. That’s up to their parents.

But speaking directly to you, young people: Nature is not your trash can. The park is there for all to enjoy. Now especially, we need to add what we can to each other’s enjoyment.

The Winslow Park lean-to. (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Please, kiddos: Create whatever mess you want in your rooms – I certainly did. Just bring a bag with you to the park, collect your garbage and drop it in the trash cans when you exit.

We dog owners do the same. Believe me, collecting your garbage is not nearly as gross as what we are collecting and ferrying to those cans! But what if we didn’t? What if the area you enjoy was full of the kind of waste no one wants to step in?

So, c’mon. Litter-ally, place your drop in the massive bucket of consideration we need right now. It’s not too much to ask.

Quad-Town, Bipartisan Effort Aims For Accurate Census

Among other things, the decennial national census is used to apportion seats in the US House of Representatives.

After the 2000 count, Connecticut lost one of our seats. We’d been at 6 since 1930; now we’re down to 5.

The census is also used to allocate funds for programs like Head Start, food stamps and other social service projects. As well, it provides the most accurate picture of exactly who lives where — information that’s important for businesses, scientists, sociologists and many others to know.

The census begins next year. And — if a coalition of civic-minded volunteers in lower Fairfield County has its way — it will provide a very accurate count of at least this small slice of America.

“Norwalk to Bridgeport” is a non-partisan effort. Several Westporters are involved, as are men and women in Fairfield, and the 2 cities bracketing them.

The other day, one of them talked about their work.

Deb Howland-Murray graduated from Staples in 1968. She moved away after college, but has lived here for the last 34 years. An illustrator, portrait artist and diversity educator, she’s active in a variety of arts groups.

She’s politically active. But, she says, Norwalk to Bridgeport transcends party lines. She and co-chair Sandy Lefkowitz helped organize this group to bring local citizens of many stripes together, in a cause that affects everyone.

The goal is simple: spread the word, so as many people in the area answer census questions as possible.

To do so, they’ve done things like organize a September 17 training session in Bridgeport. Attendees will learn how to make presentations about the census. Then they’ll go out into their communities — to churches, schools, civic clubs, etc. — and do just that.

Deb Howland-Murray

Norwalk to Bridgeport is also compiling lists of local organizations they can reach out to, to pass the census word. They’re creating a calendar of events, so they can attend and pass out information there.

The US Census Bureau has printed materials. But, Deb says, it’s not quite user-friendly. She and her fellow volunteers are creating a 1-page handout, with graphics.

Bridgeport and Norwalk already have “Complete Count” committees — local groups working to ensure an accurate census. Westport and Fairfield do not.

“There’s a lot of suspicion about the census,” Deb says, noting the recent controversy about asking a citizenship question next year. “What’s going on in Washington is happening there. Here, we just want to provide accurate information. All we want is get people counted. We don’t care about their politics.”

Historically, she says, “the more diverse the community, the lower the participation. That hurts those communities. They need funding that comes from accurate counts. We need accurate representation. The census affects everyone.”