I am writing to express my concern over H.274 (“An Act Relating to Patient Choice and Control at End of Life”), a bill that is currently being introduced for consideration during this legislative session.
I believe that this bill represents bad law and dangerous public policy. First of all, it opens the door for coercion from insurers, medical bureaucracies and perhaps even family at a time when patients can least protect their own interests. In addition, medicine is not an exact science and mistakes are routinely made. I personally know people who were told they had six months to live who five years later are leading healthy and productive lives. Death is final and such mistakes cannot be corrected. The state has a responsibility to protect people from these mistakes rather than facilitating an environment that leads to tragic results when they happen.
Furthermore, the argument that this type of legislation is needed to help end people’s pain is also erroneous. Palliative care has progressed significantly in the last decade and continues to do so. Contrary to what is stated in this legislation, leading experts in the field have stated without equivocation that the physical sources of suffering associated with dying all can be controlled. In addition, in 2009, H.245 was approved “to improve the quality of palliative care and pain management available to all Vermonters” and to “expand access to palliative care services … in this state.” Do we want to risk undercutting this effort to improve the quality and availability of palliative care in Vermont by legalizing prescription death?
Finally, we need to ask ourselves about the doors that this type of legislation can potentially open and what message it sends to those who are in vulnerable situations, especially young people, in terms of the acceptability of suicide as a solution to problems. Furthermore, what about those who are seriously physically or mentally ill but not terminal? Will this legislation be the next step on the slippery slope leading Vermont to become a state where cost control and expediency are more important than compassion and care? That is not the type of place most people would want to live.
I sincerely hope that this legislation dies in committee and if not, is defeated in the Legislature.
Gerald Scilla lives in Essex Junction.