Dear VAEH supporter,
The 2008 Vermont legislative session is over. The Death With Dignity folks were unable to introduce a new bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide this year because that bill was defeated in the first year of the biennium. The VAEH and several of its constituencies attempted this year to improve end-of-life care in VT by participating in the introduction of three different bills with different foci. In addition, a fourth bill was introduced by DWD supporters that would have mandated informing terminally ill patients (now with “less than a year to live” instead of the previous 6 month prognosis) about options of palliative sedation and voluntary refusal of food and fluids. The latter bill was seriously flawed, using non-standard definitions and incorrect information. We informed the legislature of our strong opposition. (A similarly worded bill is pending in the California legislature.)
The legislature, understandably, chose to combine the bills on end-of-life care. Fortunately, they did not include DWD’s request. Unfortunately, the final bill that passed both houses (H-281) provided much less than we had hoped. In a year with such a tight budget, it is not surprising that all measures with any expense attached were deleted, even though our proposals were very modest. This outcome was very disappointing since the proper response to requests for assisted suicide is to redouble and improve our efforts at hospice and palliative care for dying patients and their families.
As passed, H-281 creates a study committee of 6 legislators to discuss and make recommendations designed to improve palliative care, management of chronic pain, and children’s access to palliative care and pain management. It includes a list of 16 organizations who will be asked to participate with the legislative committee. DWD was one of the original organizations listed, while VAEH was not included. We asked to be added, and were included in a subsequent iteration (“Just an oversight” we were told).
The national DWD folks remain intent on their mission and are busy trying to make it happen, using legislative, judicial and public opinion avenues. The primary states with activity this year have been California, Montana, and Washington state. In California, the effort is via the legislature (see above). In Montana, three patients are suing the Attorney General for a right to expanded end-of-life choices. Probably the largest contest is in Washington state where the third avenue is being tried — a referendum to allow the citizens to decide on the permissibility of PAS. A similar measure was defeated in Washington in 1991 by a vote of 54-46%, but this year’s referendum presents a critical challenge. A popular ex-governor (Booth Gardner) who has Parkinson’s Disease is funding a major portion of the campaign. A quite fair report on this effort appeared in the NY Times Magazine several weeks ago. The Washington Coalition Against Assisted Suicide has a website (http://www.noassistedsuicide.com) if you care to follow the news.
We have tried not to tire you with frequent communications this year, but we did want you to know that the Advisory Board of VAEH continues to collaborate with like-minded organizations to promote improved end-of-life care and oppose legalization of PAS. We also continue to participate in monthly national conference calls, and we made a presentation at the First International Symposium on Prevention of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (in Toronto in December).
Sincerely, Bob Orr