Dear Supporter of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare,
The Vermont legislature is back in session. When they adjourned in May, H-168 was sitting on the agenda of the House Human Services Committee, and chair, Ann Pugh, promised they would vote on it this session. Even with one change on the committee, the bill still has strong committee support. The HS Committee met over the summer on this issue. The results of those closed deliberations are still unknown, but there is a rumor they may have alternative wording / amendments / or even a new bill. Newspaper reports suggest the bill will not go through the entire process this year, but such speculation is not always accurate. If the House HS committee votes it out favorably as expected, it will then go to the Judiciary Committee before going to the floor of the House. We must be prepared to present our concerns in both of those settings. We have again retained the services of an experienced lobbyist; he worked part time last year and will be very, very part time this year.
Though we have tried not to clutter your mailbox over the summer recess, the VAEH has not been idle. We produced a DVD called “Vermont Voices: A Closer Look at Physician Assisted Suicide” in which 14 Vermonters from many walks of life and different perspectives voiced their concerns. This has been sent to all our legislators and we have several hundred copies for use in various ways. We also printed a brochure (same title) with portions of those 14 statements. In addition, we produced 2 TV ads, aired last fall in which folks from the disability community raised their specific concerns. Several of us met with our consultants last week to plan 2 more ads raising other issues. These will be produced soon and aired while the legislature is in session. The VAEH secretary, Dr. Joe Nasca (mistakenly called “John” in the magazine), wrote a good article against legalization of PAS in the most recent issue of “Livin’ theVermont Way”.
After discussing our current situation with several members of our Advisory Committee, I had a conference last week with representatives from Hawaii and California where the legislative issue remains current, along with several national leaders on this issue to share ideas and materials. It is, of course, not clear how or when the Supreme Court will rule on the use of federally controlled substances for suicides in Oregon. If they support the federal government’s position that this is not a legitimate part of the practice of medicine, as I hope they will, it will likely slow the legislative process here and put a damper on the practice in Oregon. It is good to remember, however, that this is not a SC vote on PAS, only on the use of controlled substances. Such a vote would not prevent physician-assisted suicide; OR proponents would have to find other lethal drugs to use. If the Court does not support the government’s contention, nothing changes.
There was a report in JAMA last summer that suicide among male physicians was 40% higher than in the general male population, and in female physicians it is 130% higher than other females. And these are the supposed “gatekeepers” who control whether patients in Oregon qualify to take their own lives.
A news report of demographic data out a few months ago showed that the rate of suicide in OR is 56% higher than the national average and the rate in elderly men is rising dramatically in that state. Oregon public health officials are formulating a plan to prevent elder suicides. Duh !?!?
The August issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology had a fascinating report on “Dignity Therapy”, an intervention to address psychosocial and existential distress in terminally ill patients. All of the outcomes were positive, including: 76% had a heightened sense of dignity, 68% had an increased sense of purpose, 67% had an increased sense of meaning, 47% reported an increased will to life, and 91% found the intervention helpful. This points out 2 important things: good whole person therapy works, and proponents of PAS are misusing the concept of dignity when they talk about suicide being “death with dignity”.
The PAS/euthanasia issue is still under discussion on the international scene as well:
- In Canada, the Minister of Justice will not support Bill C-407 that would allow PAS and E.
- The Dutch government intends to expand its euthanasia policy to allow lethal injections for infants.
- The Swiss assisted suicide organization (Dignitas) which provides “suicide tourism” for internationals has opened a branch office in Germany.
- In the on-going British debate about legalizing PAS/E, the Royal College of General Practitioners had previously taken a neutral stance. In June they withdrew this stance, saying good palliative care can allow people to die with dignity without the “need” for assistance with suicide.
Thanks for reading to the end. I wish we didn’t have to do all this work. I wish the effort and money we are spending in this legislative battle could instead be spent on good palliative care. But the issue is so important, and the “Death With Dignity” folks have a budget of $325,000 over the next 3 years to accomplish their misguided aims. Members of the VAEH Executive Committee have approached prior supporters to seek funding for TV ads this spring. It is a major undertaking, and we thought long and hard before agreeing to do this. But the issue is too important to ignore. One generous supporter has promised us $5,000 if we can match that amount from our other supporters. Will you help? Contributions can be sent to VAEH; P.O. Box 2145; South Burlington, VT 05407-2145. In addition, have your telephones, your pencils and your testimonies ready in case we have to make a sudden appearance in Montpelier.
Thanks, Bob Orr, president, VAEH