The reporters from the website VT Digger, which posted the article in italics below, seem to have talked to the Senators on the Judiciary Committee yesterday and learned that none of them were swayed by the long and distorted testimony of George Eighmey, the Oregon activist. Apparently the majority opinion of the doctors and nurses in Vermont, and of the disability rights community, held the day. Two senators support the bill, two are firmly opposed, and the third remains a probable “no”, even after the testimony.
If it is not going to approve S. 103, the Judiciary Committee could do one of the following two things:
1. Kill the bill altogether.
2. Send it to the full Senate with an adverse recommendation.
If you have not already expressed your opposition to this bill, please do it now. The VT Digger article says the committee has until the end of this week to make a recommendation. That’s today and tomorrow. It is especially important to contact the Judiciary Committe members, asking them to kill this bill in committee rather than wasting the Senate’s time on further debate. : Here is the contact information for the committee members.
Senator Jeannette White: A co-sponsor of the legalization bill, Senator White’s mind can probably not be changed, but she needs to know her constituents are not happy about her support for S. 103.
Senator Diane Snelling. Another co-sponsor, Senator Snelling still needs to hear that there is opposition from her constituents.
Senator Dick Sears: Senator Sears is firmly opposed to this bill. He needs to know that his constituents support him in resisting pressures from a governor of his own party to move it along.
Senator Alice Nitka (Ludlow): Senator Nitka told VT Digger, presumably yesterday, that she opposes the bill. She needs thanks and urgings not to let the bill out of committee.
Senator Ann Cummings (Montpelier): The chief physician at Senator Cummings’ own hospital, Phillip Brown, testified against S. 103, and she told VT Digger that she will probably opposed the bill because most Vermont doctors and nurses oppose it. She needs encouragement.
Here’s the VT Digger article.
In emotional hearing, Vermonters testify on death with dignity bill
An emotional crowd packed a committee room to hear of gut-wrenching decisions faced by caretakers of patients near the end of their lives and tearful recounts of loved ones who took their own lives. At times Sen. Dick Sears, the committee’s chair, had to quiet the crowd from clapping and cheering.
Whether it’s called “hastening death” or “physician-assisted suicide,” the death with dignity bill in the Senate evokes visceral emotional reactions from both sides.
Opponents of S.103 claim it will make suicide more culturally acceptable and lead to abuses. Supporters say the bill allows for patients to make important decisions at the end of their lives. Both crowded into a Statehouse hearing room Wednesday wearing stickers that read either “I Support the Death With Dignity Bill” or “I Oppose Physician-Prescribed Suicide.”
The bill, called “An Act Relating to Patient Choice and Control at End of Life,” has been considered in one form or another for 10 years. Oregon and Washington have laws that allow the practice.
The current version of the legislation would allow mentally competent adults with terminal illnesses to request a deadly dose of medication. Patients would need a diagnosis that they have six months or less to live. The legislation requires verification of mental competence and consultation with two doctors.
Diana Barnard, a doctor who specializes in palliative care — which focuses on preventing and relieving patient suffering — says the choice to end life is about the patient.
“It’s not about the government, and it’s certainly not about the doctor,” Barnard said. “I’ve always supported patient autonomy in all aspects of medical care. At the time of death, which is so vitally personal, I feel like we should not abandon them.”
Barnard said many doctors support the bill but are hesitant to be publicly vocal since opponents portray it as extreme, implying it would prompt allow a slide down the slippery slope to euthanizing patients.
“I don’t believe those individuals are being honest with the suffering that’s going on in our state right now and what it’s like to be at the bedside of a patient who’s suffering,” Barnard said.
Marnie Wood, a Middlebury resident, said her sister went through the process in Oregon, which has had such a law for 14 years, when she suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS.
“She had what I tend to call a beautiful death,” Wood said.
Wood said her sister had compassionate physicians and she decided she wanted to live only as long as her life had quality. Wood said she thinks many people are simply frightened of death and are afraid to even have a conversation about it.
“We had the possibility to be with her to make it, in essence, a beautiful time of being together and saying farewell to her,” Wood said. “I believe wholeheartedly the issue here is end of life choice and the right to choose.”
The controversial bill has seen opposition from the Vermont Medical Society. Many doctors and others say allowing the practice would create a slippery ethical slope.
Ed Paquin, executive director of Disability Rights Vermont, said the bill could affect elderly and disabled people who feel they are a burden to their families. Paquin said he is concerned these people may be influenced to end their lives too soon.
“I think it would be short-sighted and naive to think personal influences won’t bear on fragile individuals,” Paquin said.
A group of health care providers called the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare also opposes the bill. Ray Milhaus, a retired physician who specialized in rehabilitative medicine, said the bill would encourage suicides.
“If we legislatively encourage suicide as a means to deal with problems and looking for cost containment, what easier way is there to do it than physician assisted suicide,” he said. “I want no part of it.”
Others say allowing people to take their own lives when they are terminally ill sends a message to their families that suicide is an acceptable option. Dr. Joseph Nasca, a pediatrician, said the rate of suicide is higher in a family after one individual takes his or her life.
“If grandpa or grandma decided suicide was OK, that communicates something to the children and grandchildren,” Nasca said.
Oregon has a rate of suicide that is higher than the national average, but there is no verifiable link between that rate and the law allowing patients to end their lives, Nasca said.
Despite the amount of attention the issue garnered Wednesday, the bill does not appear to be going anywhere.
Under normal rules, the bill would have to be voted out of committee this week. Sears said there could be an exception to the rule, but given that three of the five committee members do not support it, it may not go anywhere this year.
Sears has been vocally opposed to the bill. Alice Nitka said she opposes it as well. Sen. Ann Cummings said she would likely not support it.
“When the doctors and nurses of the state say they don’t want this, when they feel it’s against their ethics, I have a hard time asking them to do it,” Cummings said.