Though you have received no newsletters from the VAEH since early June, your Advisory Board has been busy preparing for the 2006 legislative session which promises to be very busy. Ann Pugh (D – South Burlington), Chair of the House Human Services Committee, promised in the spring that her committee would work on H-168 (the so-called “Death With Dignity” bill) over the summer and continue to work on proposals when the session resumes in January. In preparation for that, the VAEH has done the following:
- Produced a documentary film entitled “Vermont Voices: A Closer Look at Physician Assisted Suicide”. It includes personal statements from about a dozen of our members, coming from different perspectives and constituencies. We will be sending DVD copies of this 60-minute film to all Vermont legislators, the media, and others. This was done with the generous help of the film crew from the Office of Communications at the Catholic Diocese.
- We have also produced a brochure with the same title, using portions of those statements in print format. Copies of this brochure will also will be sent to legislators and the media, and we printed enough to be used as educational materials for the general public.
- We will be airing TV ads aimed at educating Vermonters about the dangers of legalizing PAS. The first ad features several members of the Vermont disability community voicing opposition to PAS. These will begin soon on WPTZ and WCAX. The number and variety of the ads will depend on funding.
- We continue to update our website, www.vaeh.org.
Meanwhile, events continue to unfold in several jurisdictions:
- The Dutch government intends to endorse the Groningen Protocol, a method of euthanaisizing handicapped newborn infants that was published in the spring of this year in the New England Journal of Medicine. This is a far cry from the original concept of legal euthanasia of competent adults.
- The British House of Lords continues to debate legalization of PAS and/or euthanasia. The British Medical Association dropped its opposition and took a neutral stance on the issue, while the Royal College of General Practitioners changed its stance from neutral to strong opposition. In addition, opposition has been expressed by a group of religious leaders from Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist traditions.
- The concept of the physician as judge of the appropriateness of a patient’s suicide has been challenged with a recent study that shows physicians have a much higher incidence of suicide themselves than the general public (70% higher for male MD’s and up to 400% higher for females).
- The case of Gonzales v Oregon has been argued before the US Supreme Court, but a decision is not expected until next summer. This case has been misrepresented as a case of state’s rights, whether a state has the right to control the practice of medicine by allowing PAS. That is not the issue in this case. The state of Oregon launched the suit against the federal government, challending Attorney General Ashcroft’s declaration that PAS is not a “legitimate medical purpose” which reversed an opposite declaration of the previous Attorney General, Janet Reno. If the Supreme Court supports the government declaration, PAS will still be legal in Oregon, but MD’s will have to use chemical agents other than narcotics which have been under federal jurisdiction for over 75 years.
- National pro-physician-assisted suicide advocates seem to be focusing on the issue that “death with dignity is not suicide” this year. They have likely chosen this focus because they have learned that the general populace is much more reluctant to support “suicide” than “death with dignity”. Using linguistic gymnastics they hope to convince others that intentionally taking one’s life is not an immoral suicide, but a moral choice.
Death With Dignity Vermont and End of Life Choices Vermont have emphasized this latter neologism as well. In addition, they have launched a campaign to raise $325,000 to push forward on their effort to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Vermont. Most of their financial resources will be used to pay their lobbying firm and their consultants from Oregon. They acknowledge that they have “principal financial support from the national organization of Compassion and Choice”. This figure represents more than 10 times the total amount that VAEH has used in the 3 years of our existence.
Our publishing and media activities of this summer have been funded so far by a handful of generous anonymous donors. For this effort to continue, we need ongoing support from each of you. Within the next few days it will be possible to donate to the VAEH on-line, and of course, checks can still be sent to P.O. Box 2145 in South Burlington, VT 05407. We are a not-for-profit, tax exempt organization, but because we engage in lobbying activities, your donations are not tax deductible. If you are able to help, your reward will be basking in the glory of knowing you are helping this very noble cause. Thanks in advance.
Bob Orr, President, Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare