Dear Supporter of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare,
The national political tone has, unfortunately, played out in Vermont. The changes in our state legislature suggest that the national “Death With Dignity” proponents will again be concentrating their efforts in Vermont to gain a second state where physician assisted suicide is legalized. It is well for us to remind ourselves, and remind others, that it has been 12 years since the state of Oregon made this seachange, but every legislative effort that has been initiated in any state has failed, in spite of the major funding and efforts of this national political machine. But this encouraging history should not allow us to relax. The changes in the legislature means their job is easier, and ours more difficult.
Our stance has been and continues to be that:
- We as a society need to expend more effort and money to improve end-of-life care rather than succumb to the “easy” and less expensive way out of end-of-life distress by permitting terminally ill folks to kill themselves. When given good palliative and hospice care, people who are dying want to live comfortably as long as possible. It is the distress of unmet needs, or the anticipation of distressing needs, that cause folks to want to end their lives prematurely.
- The consequence of legalizing “limited and regulated” PAS is expansion and abuse of the “limits.” These expansions and abuses are so very evident in the Netherlands, Belguim and Switzerland. The US national DWD proponents point to Oregon and assert that there have been no expansions or abuses there, however, the state of Oregon has no mechanism for collecting such data or for investigating suspicions — a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.
- The 6-month limit written into previous proposals is not a protection because the art of prognosis is so inaccurate. Peter Welch noted in his TV campaign ads that his late wife, Joan, was given a prognosis of less than 6 months, but she lived for 9 years. Art Buchwald was referred to hospice in February of this year and told he had only a few weeks to live, but he was later discharged and wrote a new book entitled “Too Soon to Say Goodbye.” And I’m sure we each have personal acquaintances who have had similar unexpected survivals.
- PAS is not needed. If we improve our end-of-life care to a level comparable to or better than Oregon, it is estimated that we would have fewer than 5 people per year who would take their own lives in this manner. Those few who choose to do this anyway can end their lives by not eating and drinking, ensuring a comfortable death in less time than it would take to go through the process of written requests, etc. required in previous proposals.
Palliative care and hospice in Vermont received a tremendous boost recently. St. Martin’s Press last month released an excellent book by Steve Kiernan, former investigative reporter for the Burlington Free Press. It is called Last Rights: Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System. This book is receiving national attention. I encourage you to read it. The author does not take a position on PAS, but his thesis emphasizes the first bullet above.
A generous VAEH supporter has offered to purchase books for us to give to our legislators, especially those on pertinent committees. We are currently discussing whether Kiernan’s new book (a positive approach) or Foley and Hendin’s 2002 book The Case Against Assisted Suicide (a negative approach) would be better.
We have sent a letter, along with a copy of the VAEH DVD (“Vermont Voices”) and an up-dated compilation of “PAS in Oregon: Theory vs Practice” to the newly elected Vermont legislators. We are currently discussing how much lobbyist time we can afford for this session.
What can you do?
- We need letters to the editor in all Vermont newspapers, proposing good palliative care and noting the dangers of legalization of PAS. Ideas can be found on our website at the following page:http://www.vaeh.org/resources/index.htm
- We need grassroots contacts with all legislators — letters, e-mails, phone calls, personal contacts. A legislative directory can be found at: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/legdir/legdir2.htm
- Disseminate this newsletter to others. Encourage others to sign up for it at www.vaeh.org
- We need help with funding. Unfortunately, contributions to the VAEH are not tax deductible because we engage in lobbying, but you can know that anything you are able to contribute will go directly to our mission since all of our efforts except our single part-time lobbyist are done by volunteers. Contributions may be sent to VAEH; Box 2145; South Burlington, VT 05407.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for caring. Let’s get to work.
Bob Orr, president, VAEH