On January 30, 2012, the Times Argus published a heartbreaking letter from the mother of a severely disabled man who lived 29 years before dying when she refused treatement for him. The letter advocates the enactment of the assisted suicide bill now stuck (hopefully for the rest of the session) in the Vermont Senate by stating: “After watching him suffer endlessly for so many years, I would have allowed doctors (had it been LEGAL) to “overmedicate” him, allowing his painful journey to come peacefully to an end….And that is why I believe in the Death with Dignity bill” (http://timesargus.com/article/20120204/OPINION02/702049964/0/BUSINESS).
The assisted suicide bill proposed for Vermont is just that. It would legalize assisted suicide, not what this letter is proposing, which is euthanasia, or mercy killing; in the case of this woman’s son, it would have been done without his consent and have been defined as involuntary euthanasia. Of course the proponents of assisted suicide want to make us believe the law would actually protect against euthanasia, and another proponent responded to the woman’s letter with one of his own, saying that “…, the Death with Dignity legislation now being considered would prohibit such action” (http://www.timesargus.com/article/20120211/OPINION02/702119972/0/NEWS02).
The writer of the second letter is probably right that it would not legalize a family’s getting a doctor to kill their disabled child, but anyone who thinks it would prevent other kinds of euthanasia or would not eventually lead to the kind wished for in the letter is dead wrong. According to the provisions of the law, a patient must demonstrate some level of competency to get the poison, but once he fills the prescription he is absolutely without protection. In Oregon, at least one relative has admitted “helping” a person take the lethal dose; he was not prosecuted
(http://www.vaeh.org/resources/index.htm, then go to “Oregon Abuses and check the case of Patrick Matheny). No witness is required at the time of ingestion, so it would never be possible to prove that a crime was committed. Even if the person changed his mind and struggled while someone forced him to take it, who would ever know?
Furthermore, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine has reported that 18% of assisted suicides in two studies of the practice in the Netherlands had problems that resulted in a doctor’s giving a lethal injection, thus turning the assisted suicides into euthanasia, which is legal there (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200002243420805). We also know that where euthanasia is legal, as in the Netherlands, people are euthanized without their consent (http://www.current-oncology.com/index.php/oncology/article/view/883/645, Section 2.1). Doctors or relatives decide that euthanasia is the best thing for them, just as the writer of the first letter believes euthanasia would have been the best thing for her son.
If the idea of involuntary euthanasia horrifies you, do everything you can to keep assisted suicide from becoming legal in Vermont. Patient Choices is still recommending that their supporters call Senators. It never hurts for us to keep a steady stream of letters and calls in opposition to this threat flowing into their offices. You can find contact information on the right hand side of this website or at http://www.leg.state.vt.us/legdir/legdirmain.cfm.