Dear VAEH Supporter,
We have tried not to clutter your e-mailbox over the past several months, but there are several things that the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare’s Advisory Council thought you should be aware of.
Legislative efforts in Vermont: The November elections saw a shift in the make-up of both houses of the VT Legislature that might make it more difficult to oppose attempts to legalize physician-assisted suicide. It is always difficult to predict, of course. Recall that when bill H-44 was under discussion in March of 2007, it was thought to be a toss-up. However, the testimony of several of you and the other efforts of the VAEH were able to convince members of the House to reject legalization of PAS by a substantial margin: 82 opposed, 63 in favor. The Death With Dignity folks have upped the ante, hiring a professional Executive Director, Monica Knorr, and again engaging multiple lobbyists. Their funding is substantial, the majority coming from out of state. They have pledged to re-introduce a PAS bill in this legislative session. There have already been several letters to the editor and op-ed pieces around the state by the old familiar individuals and by Ms. Knorr. Several of you have written on the issue, and written very well; only a few of these have been published so far, several more sit on editors’ desks around the state. Keep it up! Many Vermonters are calling for the legislature to focus on the severe economic crisis and to not spend precious time on controversial social issues. Let’s hope they do that.
Ballot initiative in Washington: You have likely heard that PAS was legalized in the state of Washington by a November referendum vote of 58-42%. The national DWD folks have been trying for 10 years to get that 2nd state, failing more than 80 times before this WA vote. The “Oregon plus One” campaign they waged in WA cost proponents over $5,000,000, with at least 40% of that coming from just 6 out-of-state donors, and 20% from a former governor of WA. The opponents of physician-assisted suicide worked valiantly with just a small fraction of that funding. It is more difficult to oppose a referendum than a legislative bill: you have to try to educate the entire state about abuses, expansions and complications instead of just focusing on the legislators.
Court case in Montana: The Death With Dignity folks in Montana took still a different pathway. Rather than working through the legislature or by referendum, they took the judicial route. A suit was brought by one terminally ill man (Mr. Baxter), joined by 4 physicians and the national Compassion and Choices group (the current, ever-changing, name of Death With Dignity). They claimed that prohibiting assisted suicide breached a (state) constitutional right. The judge in the trial court supported this claim, thus saying Montana residents have a right to physician-assisted suicide and Montana physicians are protected from prosecution for writing a lethal prescription. No guidelines or “safeguards” have been issued by the state. This case will almost certainly be appealed to the MN Supreme Court. Right after the court’s decision was handed down, the state Death With Dignity folks issued a press release with a statement from Mr. Baxter about how pleased he was to now have the right to physician-assisted suicide. Sadly, they forgot to check with Mr. Baxter about “his” statement. He had already died from his malignancy before the judge handed down her decision.
The Vermont Alliance has been working with other state leaders in trying to enhance end-of-life care for Vermonters. Most of those efforts will cost money, and the chances of getting substantial measures passed this year that require new state money is zero or less. We continue to work in this positive direction, keeping our eyes and ears open for opportunities to speak for hospice and palliative care and to speak against legalization of physician-assisted suicide. There was an article in the Journal of Palliative Medicine recently describing the results of a national survey about access to palliative care services. Vermont was at the top of the list, with an entry saying we had 100% access. This inaccurate information has already been transmitted to our legislators. Unfortunately, they were not informed about the method of the survey: only hospitals with over 50 beds were counted, and then only if they were considered by the federal government to be “sole community providers.” Thus the basis of the incorrect statement was survey results from only 5 VT hospitals. I have conveyed this inaccuracy to the authors, but our legislators now have the impression that we are the best in the country. Our work never ends.
The Advisory Board is looking for a volunteer, hopefully one of you. We would like someone to manage our growing e-mail list for distribution of this newsletter. We need to up-date entries, seek new e-addresses for some who have changed ISP’s, and distribute the periodic newsletters. So anyone who is computer savvy and willing to donate a small amount of time would be greatly appreciated. If interested, please contact us at [email protected].
We have not done any fund-raising for 2 years. Most of our work is done by generous volunteers. Our lobbyists, Vitzthum and Carroll, work a lot of hours for very modest fees. Our meager funds are getting very low. Since legislators have pledged to re-introduce a bill to change VT law to allow physician-assisted suicide, we are once again going to need a lot of help from you. Contributions may be sent to The Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; Box 2145; South Burlington, VT 05407. [When you make your contribution, please remember that while we are a tax exempt organization, donations are not tax deductible since we engage in lobbying.]
Thanks for your continued support. Bob Orr for the Advisory Board