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True Dignity Vermont is a grassroots, independent, citizen-led initiative in opposition to assisted suicide in Vermont. Vermonters deserve true dignity and compassion at the end of life, not the abandonment of assisted suicide. Killing is not compassion, and True Dignity Vermont will work to ensure our end-of-life choices respect the dignity of all Vermont citizens.

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On October 19, 2015, a NY civil court judge rejected a lawsuit brought by three people who want to be allowed to commit suicide with the help of doctors.  These people have illnesses that will probably kill them, but not necessarily within the six month period cited by Oregon, Washington, and Vermont laws as qualifying a patient for help with suicide.  One has ALS, with which physicist Stephen Hawking has been living for more than 40 years. Another has AIDS, which can be managed for many years.  The third, who has metastatic bladder cancer, may indeed be close to death, but we know that other people given terminal diagnoses by doctors have far outlived their prognoses .  Yesterday’s ruling maintains the patient protections afforded by NY’s current law, which makes it a crime to assist in a suicide.  The opinion holds that a patient’s civil rights are fully protected by his or her right to decline medical treatment.

Of course the proponents of assisted suicide have announced their intention to appeal.

While this ruling is very good news, two assisted suicide bills remain active in the NY legislature, and Compassion and Choice’s website makes it very clear that New York is the state where proponents of assisted suicide will concentrate their efforts this year.



According to the New York Daily News, the Patients Rights Action Fund, a national group that has long opposed the legalization of assisted suicide, has a new president.  He is 34 year old ex-marine JJ Hanson, who worked for NY Democrat governors Eliot Spitzer and  David Patterson  as Director of Regional Affairs for the mid-Hudson Valley (http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/ex-political-aide-lead-fight-ny-assisted-suicide-article-1.2402442?cid=bitly).

In 2014, Hanson, who is married and has a young son, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the same cancer Brittany Maynard had.  Unlike Maynard, he is fighting his cancer and also fighting to keep assisted suicide “from becoming the social norm”.

Though his work will be national, he has already begun to work against assisted suicide in New York, meeting with the bill’s sponsor and attending a forum sponsored by another state legislator.  There are currently two assisted suicide bills active in the New York legislature, and New York is a large and influential state that Compassion and Choices would love to add to its list of conquests.  Hanson will be a great asset in stopping that from happening.

A former supporter of assisted suicide, Hanson now believes it is bad for people with serious illness.  One reason he gives for this change of opinion, is that assisted suicide has the potential to hinder efforts to find cures by reducing the pool of patients available for clinical trials.

It took a third medical opinion and subsequent surgery, but Hanson, who was originally told by two doctors that he had only a short time to live, is now “managing” his disease.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if brain cancer went the way of AIDS, another disease that used to be considered fatal within a short time and can now be managed, if not cured.

True Dignity is overjoyed to have JJ Hanson on our side.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi





True Dignity Vermont has posted four times about the risk that patients taking assisted suicide drugs may not experience the peaceful death sold to them by Compassion and Choices.  In the article linked below, US News and World Report makes the same point, including the fact that the drug that is often used, Pentobarbitol, is the same one that has resulted in several botched executions.

It is shocking that people in this country are being urged to execute themselves.

“I don’t think many people who are casual supporters of the Death with Dignity movement are aware that there are these sorts of risks,” says Tamara Tabo, head of the Center for Legal Pedagogy at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, according to the US News article.  She is quoted later in the article saying, “Everyone has a picture that it’s simple, clean, easy, and you fall asleep. That’s unfortunately not always so.”

As the article points out, it’s very difficult to test drugs intended to kill people, and without good test data, it’s difficult to control for all the variables that may impact an individual case.  Even under the tightly supervised conditions surrounding the execution of a convicted criminal, there can be unexpected and unwelcome outcomes–so much so that opponents of capital punishment consider the use of such drugs  “cruel and unusual punishment”and have worked to block their use.  Meanwhile, proponents of assisted suicide paint a falsely rosy picture of the ease of death by prescription, and continue to work to make these drugs more readily available to people who wish to end their lives voluntarily.

True Dignity has posted about this topic before: http://www.truedignity.org/category/not-a-peaceful-death/

We also note that George Eighmey, who told US News and World Report that several of the people in Oregon and/or Washington who woke up after taking the drugs have retaken them, testified before a Vermont Senate Committee in early 2013 that no one who woke up after taking the drugs had chosen to take them again.  We wonder why the states involved did not bother to interview all the patients who woke up, to find out what the experience of attempted suicide was really like.

Isn’t consent supposed to be informed?  Don’t patients have a right to know they may suffer when they die from assisted suicide?



California Governor Jerry Brown, who was fully informed about the dangers legal assisted suicide presents to literally everybody, rich or poor, abled or disabled, sick or well, young or old, nevertheless signed the state’s assisted suicide bill into law today, saying he did it because he did not think it right to “make it a crime for a dying person to end his life”.

Brown ignored the fact that the bill is not about criminalizing suicide but about lifting the penalties for assisting in suicide, thereby getting medical people, the state, and everyone around a patient involved and creating numerous opportunities for error and abuse, including murder pure and simple, without fear of discovery or punishment.

As a state senator who voted against the bill said, “Let’s call this for what it really is: It’s not death with dignity. This is state-assisted death, physician-assisted death and relative-assisted death.”

Here’s a link to the story in the Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-pc-gov-brown-end-of-life-bill-20151005-story.html.

Brown will have to live with his conscience.  We, on the other hand, can be proud and thankful that we had and took the opportunity to fight this with all our hearts.  We especially thank those who have worked tirelessly for years, people like the brilliant and tireless Margaret Dore and like John Kelly and all the people from Not Dead Yet, who have never stopped pointing out the loathing of disability that lies behind legal assisted suicide and that makes it deadly for them.  There are so many others.

Compassion and Choices’ Barbara Coombs Lee is bragging that 1 in 10 people in the US now lives in a state with legal assisted suicide.

Now is not the time to turn back.  We must continue to fight the expansion of assisted suicide and its twin, euthanasia, in the US and the world. We must be tireless in bringing abuse and error to light so that we can repeal the laws that already exist.

True Dignity believes that the time has arrived for us also to begin to form networks of individuals who agree to advocate for each other against the pressures and coercion that no doubt are already leading and certainly will lead to premature and unwanted deaths enabled by these laws.

We are sad, even devastated, today.  Tomorrow our unrelenting opposition efforts will continue.  There is solace in that.


On Friday, September 11, the California Senate passed an assisted suicide bill, Abx2-15.  The Senate had passed another assisted suicide bill; SB-128, in June, but it  stalled in the Assembly Health Committee, because several Democrats expressed concerns about how the practice of assisted suicide might exacerbate class, race and disability-related inequalities in the healthcare sphere, and was never brought to the Assembly floor.

This month, Governor Jerry Brown called a special legislative session, to consider how to reduce the expenditures associated with California’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal. The proponents of the original bill exploited the special session by introducing Abx2-15, which was presented through two committees with different members from those on the committee that had rejected it in the regular sessio . After passage in the Assembly, the Senate bypassed its committee process altogether and sent the bill to the floor in order to pass it by the end of the legislative season.

The legislation, which bars malpractice litigation against doctors who prescribe lethal drugs to “terminally ill” patients , only holds doctors to a good faith standard. It also bars the disclosure of government statistics regarding the use of Abx2-15.

Assisted suicide will now become law in  California unless Governor Jerry Brown vetoes it.

We are asking people from every state to contact the governor, using the form here: https://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php. Please ask him not to validate the idea that assisted suicide is an acceptable way to reduce Medi-Cal costs.

Please remember that religious arguments are unnecessary, as the law is bad on its face; such arguments actually hurt our cause, since the proponents of assisted suicide have for a long time sought to marginalize all opposition as purely religious.  Remind the governor about the reality of suicide contagion; the Oregon general suicide rate has risen since legalization of assisted suicide at a rate consistent with such contagion.  Remind him that the reasons Oregonians give for committing assisted suicide tend to be existential concerns related to the onset of disability in the course of a terminal illness; the top five reasons they give are loss of autonomy, “dignity,” or control over one’s bodily functions, inability to engage in activities and feeling like a burden on loved ones.  Tell him that the law provides no way for the government to oversee its implementation after lethal medication is obtained; no witnesses are required at the time of ingestion.  Remind him about people like Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup, Oregon Medicaid recipients who were denied chemotherapy coverage and offered assisted suicide instead; after they went public the state stopped writing letters offering such alternatives, but it did not stop denying coverage for treatment and offering coverage for assisted suicide, thus steering people in the direction of the latter. Remind the governor of people like Jeanette Hall, who requested lethal drugs from a doctor, was persuaded to obtain treatment instead, and is alive sixteen years later; ask the governor not to validate a policy with the potential to eliminate years of someone’s life. Lastly, please remind him that two CA court judges ruled that assisted suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest; the state has an interest in protecting vulnerable people from abuse and in preventing suicide contagion.

The good news, about which we should also remind Governor Brown, is that the British Parliament overwhelmingly rejected an assisted suicide bill on the same day the California Senate passed one.  Please remind Governor Brown about this decision and of the fact that in the last year, ten state legislatures have rejected assisted suicide.

Ask Governor Brown to have the wisdom and courage to reject a law that is unlike other laws in that the error and abuse it cannot possibly prevent will not be remediable, because the affected people will be dead.

Please take the time to do this.  What happens in California will affect people all over the US and the world.  You can make a difference.


On August 12, 2015, a New Mexico appeals court overturned a lower court ruling legalizing assisted suicide and directing that it not considered suicide in that state.  Here is a link to this extremely good news:  http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/aug/11/new-mexico-court-of-appeals-strikes-down-right-to-/.

Even in the wake of all the publicity surrounding the Brittany Maynard case, state legislature after state legislature has declined to legalized assisted suicide after hearing the evidence of its dangers to patients’ freedom of choice.  According the the Patients Rights Council, 8 states killed assisted suicide bills outright, and 18 states have bills on which action is has been left hanging: http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/failed-attempts-usa/.

So Vermont remains on the lunatic fringe, along with Oregon and Washington.

Around one in five patients who choose euthanasia in the Netherlands acts under pressure from family members, according to a leading expert on the ethics of assisted dying, as reported last week in Dutch News: http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2015/07/pressure-on-patients-is-cause-for-concern-euthanasia-expert/

According to the report, Professor Theo Boer, who teaches ethics at Groningen’s Protestant Theological University and has for nine years served as a member of one of five review committees that assess every euthanasia case, said, “Sometimes it’s the family who go to the doctor. Other times it’s the patient saying they don’t want their family to suffer. And you hear anecdotally of families saying: ‘Mum, there’s always euthanasia.’”

Here in Vermont, where physician-assisted suicide has been legal for just two years, cases of pressure are already starting to emerge, and it isn’t always family members providing the pressure. True Dignity has spoken with the family of a 90-year-old Medicaid patient who felt pressured by caregivers in the facility where she was admitted for recovery from a fall. The patient did not have a terminal diagnosis.

According to Beth Neill, clinicians at the Berlin Health and Rehab Center informed her mother at regular intervals during her 4-month stay there that she had a “right” to use Act 39, and that, “She didn’t even have to discuss it with her family.” It was the act of repeatedly bringing up Act 39 as a health care “option” that caused her mother to feel pressure, and not overt efforts by clinicians to convince her to request the lethal prescription, Neill said. However, she said her mother made it clear she wanted nothing to do with Act 39 and was disturbed that staff re-introduced the topic repeatedly.

Neill notes that her mother was, and is, in otherwise surprisingly good health for her age, and would not have qualified for Act 39, as the extended stay in Berlin Health and Rehab was strictly for help recovering from her fall.

Neill was not made aware of the situation at Berlin Health and Rehab until after her mother had already been moved to assisted living at a Northfield facility, where she currently resides. When she did hear of it, “It blew my eyebrows off,” she said.

According to Neill, the staff at the Northfield facility informed her that her mother had reacted strongly when they began to discuss care options. “Mom thought they were going to start talking about Act 39, the way they did at Berlin (Health and Rehab), and she blew up at them. She said, ‘I don’t want anyone talking to me about killing myself.’”

That’s when it came out that the staff at Berlin Health and Rehab had talked to her more than once about her “right” to request a lethal prescription. “I recalled then that my mother had been very eager to get out of there, and I had noticed that she seemed frustrated and unhappy, but I didn’t know why,” Neill explained.

Her mother told her that the staff at the Berlin facility specifically stated that Act 39 “is the law,” and in her words, “They said she could ‘off’ herself any time she wanted to.” She told her physician, who adamantly opposes Act 39, “They want me to take a bunch of pills and kill myself.”

Clearly, confusion abounds regarding the duties of medical caregivers with respect to Act 39. Vermont’s “affirmative duty to inform” under the Patient Rights Act requires that health care providers let patients know of all available treatment options, but it is not clear how this is understood to apply to Act 39 . Beth Neill’s mother did not have a terminal diagnosis and would not have been eligible for a lethal prescription under Vermont’s law.  Asked why she was informed of this “treatment option” by health care workers at his facility, John O’Donnell, Executive Director of Berlin Health and Rehab, declined to reply.

True Dignity also was unable to get answers from Berlin Health and Rehab to explain where staff received training around the implementation of Act 39and what the facility’s official policy is on assisted suicide.

We can only speculate about where some information may be coming from. In a letter to members, the well-funded pro-assisted-suicide group Patient Choices Vermont, an arm of the national organization Compassion and Choices, says that the group Compassion and Choices Vermont has been doing “extensive work educating patients, medical providers and institutions, as well as assisting individuals” to find the “resources they need.” The letter also states, “While details are still being determined, PCV will have an important role to play as health department regulations are developed (and) insurance coverage issues are dealt with.”

We do not know whether or not this group had a hand in helping “educate” staff at the nursing home where Beth Neill’s mother felt pressured to use Act 39. At present, there is no oversight mandated by Act 39 to prevent abuse, and the only other organization we are aware of with resources and staff to educate health care providers about Act 39 is the Vermont Ethics Network, which also receives funding from Compassion and Choices.

States are prohibited from using Medicaid dollars to cover costs associated with physician assisted suicide, but it is unclear whether there are provisions in the State-sponsored Green Mountain Care Medicaid to pay for drugs and doctor visits for patients requesting Act 39.

Because Act 39 contains few safeguards and almost no reporting requirements, it seems that questions will be more abundant than answers for the foreseeable future.

Thanks to a strong family support system and a personal physician who is opposed to assisted suicide, Beth Neill’s mother was able to resist pressure to consider using Act 39. What is unknown is how many other vulnerable individuals are feeling pressure today from family or caregivers, and may eventually succumb, as physician assisted suicide becomes entrenched in Vermont and aggressively promoted by those who may operate from motives at odds with the best interests of the patient.

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