Dear VAEH Supporter,
The Vermont legislative “Cross-Over Day” (AKA Town Meeting Day) has come and gone without the introduction of a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Thus there will be no Vermont battle on this front during this calendar year. Meanwhile, several individuals from VAEH have been busy attending meetings and making suggestions for legislation on end-of-life care. The current palliative care bill can be viewed at: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/misc/243115.pdf. It makes only modest progress in end-of-life care, not surprising in this time of fiscal restraint. There had been an early proposal by the Death With Dignity folks to include language like California’s AB 2747 (which passed last year) mandating that physicians inform anyone with a prognosis of 12 months or less about the options of “terminal sedation” and “voluntary cessation of eating and drinking.” VAEH challenged this proposal as being clinically unreasonable. The current bill includes instead a new “Hospice Care, Palliative Care, and Pain Management Patients’ Bill of Rights”; this is a reasonable proposal. The bill has some other very good provisions and some that still need to be addressed, but none that immediately affect the assisted suicide issue.
CORRECTION: In the last newsletter (#47) it was incorrectly stated that the Death With Dignity folks had hired an executive director. This was reported based on a newspaper headline “Assisted-Suicide Promoters Hire New Vermont President…” We have been informed that Monica Knorr is an unpaid volunteer. Sorry for the error.
The 2008 report of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon has been released (available athttp://www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/pas/docs/year11.pdf) . The annual number of Oregonians dying from PAS continues to increase each year; 60 died in 2008 (up from 49 in 2007). 88% of them were assisted by physicians from Compassion and Choice, a significant increase from the 73% average over the prior 10 years. Only 3 (5%) expressed concerns about future pain, down from an average of 27% in previous years; i.e., greater concern about autonomy and dignity, less concern about physical symptoms.
Meanwhile, the battle continues on several fronts:
The Washington state legislature has passed legislation mandated by the November voter referendum, legalizing physician-assisted suicide in that state. The law, which went into effect yesterday, is very similar to the law in Oregon, including no requirement that the patient be suffering — merely a 6-month prognosis, a desire to die, and a willing physician. Several hospitals have already announced that they will not permit PAS for their in-patients. Opponents of PAS have formed a new organization, True Compassion Advocates, to raise awareness of the dangers of PAS and to promote improved end-of-life care in the state.
A Montana judge ruled on December 5 that terminally ill citizens have a right to physician-assisted suicide. The Attorney General has appealed that ruling to the Montana Supreme Court, and several amicus briefs are in the works. Meanwhile, the Montana legislature failed to take up a proposed bill to codify this practice. Thus, the practice is now technically legal, but with absolutely no statutory guidelines or restrictions.
Closer to home, House Bill 304 has been introduced in the New Hampshire legislature to legalize physician-assisted suicide for patients who have an “incurable and irreversible condition” which “will result in premature death.” If passed, this would be available for NH residents or anyone who is “regularly treated in a New Hampshire health care facility.” Expansions from the “qualifications” in OR and WA is that there is no prognostic time limit and it would be available to out-of-state residents. The House Judiciary Committee took testimony last week, and it is still unknown whether they will vote it down or forward it to the House.
In Pennsylvania, SB 404 has been introduced to legalize physician-assisted suicide. It is expected that there will be an Oregon-type bill introduced in Massachusetts. There are bills in Maryland and Arizonawith wording similar to California’s AB 2747. In addition there is a federal bill in Canada to allow PAS throughout the country.
A Georgia-initiated multi-state probe into the Final Exit Network has led to four arrests of volunteers who directly aid individuals in their suicides. The Death With Dignity National Center is trying to distance itself from Final Exit. However, the head of the Network (one of those arrested) is Ted Goodwin who was elected VP of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies in 2008.
Thank you for your continued support. Two of us from VAEH continue to participate in monthly conference calls with representatives from many other states to monitor these situations and to give and receive advice.