Assisted suicide should never be legal because some families are like this one: http://medicalfutility.blogspot.com/2015/01/bad-healthcare-surrogates-kill-patient.html.
Though this is not an assisted suicide case, but one of withdrawal of life support and possible killing under the guise of “comfort care”, we don’t have to imagine how a similar scenario would play out with assisted suicide.
We have actually heard from a man who won’t go public but who says his “terminally ill” elderly father’s second wife persuaded him, by saying that having the drugs would give him “peace of mind, to get and fill a lethal prescription from doctors in Oregon, where he lived. She then planned a suicide party, at which the old man refused to take the drugs. A few days later there was another suicide party, and he did die at that one. After the death, it turned out that the man had changed his will, leaving everything to the second wife, who no doubt “persuaded” him to make the change. We have only this man’s son’s account, and it may or may not be true. It was never reported to Oregon authorities, because the man’s other children, did not agree with their brother that it should be. Reason, however, tells us, that the very lack of any reporting of any case of abuse to the authorities during 17 years of legalization in OR is suspicious. There is no law that is never abused.
We tolerate abuse with some laws, because of the good they bring. The sad truth about assisted suicide is that a case like the one above or like any similar case involving assisted suicide, is that it cannot be fixed. We cannot bring this man back. We cannot bring back anyone who was poisoned with assisted suicide drugs.
During the final debate on Act 39 in the Vermont House, we heard then House member Duncan Kilmartin ask member Sandy Haas, who was the floor manager, whether she could show him any protections in the law for a person who had filled the prescription. Her answer: that person was terminally ill. That’s all. Our question, for the people who tell us that many get the drugs for “peace of mind” and never take them, is: “Don’t the terminally ill deserve the same legal protections everyone else has? Is abuse of the terminally ill permissible?
We are reading that the VT Senate Health and Welfare Committee will revisit Act 39 in this session, hoping to strike out the sunset provision that leaves assisted suicide completely unregulated after a certain date in 2016, and leaving the current inadequate regulations in place. These regulations require no determination of competence at the time of death, and no disinterested witnesses. Shouldn’t any amended law at least required these? The bill also requires no reports on what happens at the deathbed, so, unless a family chooses to tell us, we know, and will know, nothing about how long it took for a person to die and whether there were complications, as there have been in Oregon. Also should VT doctors be required to tell every “terminally ill” patient that assisted suicide is a legal option, whether the doctor thinks it appropriate or not? Under a VT law that existed previous to the adoption of Act 39, they are. We can’t believe Vermont legislators are going to leave us with a law with even fewer protections than those in Oregon.
Make no mistake though. The Oregon law,though containing more regulations that Vermont’s, is still insufficient. It also requires no witnesses at the death bed. It leaves the determination of whether a patient should be referred for a psychiatric evaluation up to a doctor who is usually from Compassion and Choices and has a built in bias towards granting the request. It requires no consultation with the patient’s family doctor, with whom he has had a long term relationship. It used to require reporting of the length of time until death and of complications, but it no longer does except when a medical person was at the deathbed, which is occurring less and less often. This is just a partial list of its inadequacies.
What we need is repeal of the VT law. Vermonters should demand it. We should not become complacent because some patients tell us that having the drugs give them “peace of mind”. They may have great families. Someone else does not.