We were on vacation when newly re-elected governor Peter Shumlin made a widely-reported statement last week that he believes so-called “death with dignity” legislation will pass in Vermont in the next legislative session (http://www.vermontpressbureau.com/pot-decrim-and-death-with-dignity-according-to-shumlin-were-going-to-get-them-done/).
The same article reported that Senator John Campbell, who as Senate President Pro Tem, was a leader in keeping last year’s version of this perennial VT bill from going to a floor debate and vote, will continue to oppose legalization of assisted suicide and is uncertain that it has enough votes to pass in the Senate. He told the reporter, however, that if he is elected Senate Pro Tem again, as he almost surely will be, he will allow for a fuller committee debate on the legislation, with joint hearings before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and Judiciary Committee.
Last year’s bill was referred only to the Judiciary Committee, which failed to pass it. It’s chair in the last session, Bennington Senator Dick Sears, is a strong opponent of assisted suicide. Senator Claire Ayer, who led the Health and Welfare Committee last year, is a strong proponent of assisted suicide, and many believe she has the votes on that committee to pass it.
The proponents of assisted suicide are not about to give up. The first letter to the editor has already appeared.
Throughout most of the recent unsuccessful campaign to legalize assisted suicide in Massachusetts, polls showed the measure leading by a large margin. In the end, however, educational efforts paid off. When people understood the dangers of legalizing assisted suicide, they voted it down, just as so many state legislatures have defeated assisted suicide bills after they took the time to learn about the dangers.
Senator Campbell says he is allowing more debate on assisted suicide because of pressure to do so from both sides. This issue has already been debated many times in our state, and True Dignity’s position is that continuing to rehash it is a waste of time that should be spent on solving more pressing problems, including some that have a direct bearing on assisted suicide, such as state agencies’ scandalously slow response to reports of adult abuse and the failure of Vermonters to receive hospice and palliative care, despite their availability, at the end of life. Unrelated matters needing attention are also numerous.
If, however, we must have a debate once more on whether it is wise to allow our doctors to assist in suicide by prescribing an overdose of barbitrates and giving instructions on how to use them to bring about death, Vermonters will be ready for it. Led by physicians and disability rights activists, the citizens of Vermont will once again rebut the misinformation that the Oregon assisted suicide law has proven safe, reiterate the reasons why legalized assisted suicide is a threat to everyone, and flood our legislators’ message boxes with calls for them to defeat assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide proponents cannot win on their arguments. Their strategy seems to be to wear us down by coming back again and again and again and again. It will not work, Vermonters are too independent, thoughtful, ready to learn, and, yes, patient, to allow themselves to be worn down. We will fight, and we will win.