Dear VAEH Supporter,
Though the sound defeat of the Physician-Assisted Suicide bill on the floor of the VT House last spring took the urgent pressure off the PAS issue, it has not gone away. We need to continue vigilance. In addition, we need to work on the alternative, enhancing excellent hospice and palliative care for Vermonters.
Several of us have been working with Vitzthum & Carroll, the lobbyists who helped us defeat PAS last session, to generate bills that will encourage and enhance excellent end of life care. We have collaborated with many individuals and organizations around the state and have put together 3 bills which I believe have merit. The lobbyists have also found legislative sponsors for all 3. It is not yet clear when or whether they will reach committee discussion. They are:
- H.729 to create the office of state palliative care ombudsman, to study state funding for pediatric palliative care, to implement consumer outreach and education on patients’ rights and options in end-of-life care (state funded at $200,000).
- S.281 to mandate state reporting on end-of-life care and pain management
- H (unnumbered) would allocate $220,000 to the Hospice and Palliative Care Council to be distributed $20,000 to each hospice in VT.
You can find the text for the 2 with numbers at: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/billtext.cfm if you wish to review them.
Unfortunately, I learned this week of another bill on “palliatve care” that has been proposed, I suspect, by Death With Dignity. H.804 defines palliative sedation and voluntary refusal of food and fluids as “medically accepted” for anyone with either a terminal illness or a prognosis of 12 months or less to live. It mandatesthat all physicians must explain to all patients in this category about all “options”. The VAEH Advisory Board has written a critique of this bill (also attached), supporting parts and not supporting others. If this comes up in committee, we may be calling on you to contact committee members, so it would be good for you to become familiar with some of the details and of our criticism.
Two of us continue to participate in monthly national conference calls with like-minded folks in several other states, sharing information, ideas and resources. It looks like the big push for PAS this year will be in Washington state and Montana, though “annual bills” have also been introduced in a few others as well.
In Washington, there is a major effort underway for a referendum, rather than a legislative initiative, so that citizens may vote directly on the measure on November 4, as was done in Oregon in 1994. This method is more difficult to combat than a legislative proposal. This very well-funded effort is headed by still-popular former Governor Booth Gardner who has Parkinson’s disease. I had the pleasure of meeting his son, who opposes PAS, at the International Conference on Euthanasia Prevention in Toronto in December. The Washington Medical Association has strengthened its position of opposition to PAS, a good first step, but this is a very troubling situation.
In Montana, still another approach: A suit was filed by three patients in district court in October against the Attorney General of Montana. The goal of the suit is to exploit a previous decision by the State Supreme Court which recognized the right of each individual to make medical judgments free from governmental interference. If this position is affirmed, it could open the door to legalized assisted suicide, even though Montana currently has a statute making PAS illegal. Stay tuned.
Even though DWD, C&C, EOLC, etc have introduced 4 ballot measures and 78 legislative initiatives over the last 20 years, all but one of which (OR) have failed, they continue in their losing battle. Unfortunately, this diverts much time, energy and resources that could otherwise have been used to help people who are facing death and their families.
Thank you for your continued interest and support. Feel free to share this newsletter with anyone who might be interested. Also, check out our website (www.vaeh.org) for updated resources.
Bob Orr, President, VAEH