Assisted suicide legislation has failed to make it out of committee in the Massachusetts legislature. Coming on the heels of the recent defeat of assisted suicide legislation by a NH legislative committee, this is good news indeed but embarrassing news for Vermont. Why did our legislature not do the same thing in May, 2013?
Vermonters should remember that the VT Senate Judiciary Committee did vote against assisted suicide legislation, in 2012 and again in 2013. In 2013, however, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Bennington County’s Dick Sears, who opposed the legislation and believed he could shepherd it to defeat on the Senate Floor, agreed with Senate leaders to 1)send the bill to the Senate floor, albeit with a recommendation that it should be rejected, and 2)to give another committee, Health and Human Services, joint jurisdiction over the bill. Leaders packed Health and Human Services with supporters of assisted suicide. The bill’s fate on the Senate floor rested with two Senators, Windham County’s Peter Galbraith and Bennington County’s Robert Hartwell. In the end, these two senators voted for the bill BECAUSE, not in spite of, the fact that it contains even fewer safeguards than the Oregon bill that allows patients to ingest the lethal dose of barbiturates alone or more dangerously, in the presence of one other person, who might or might not be an abuser. We know about the Thomas Middleton case in Oregon only because of the odd real estate transactions that took place around it. Had Tami Sawyer been an heir of Thomas Middleton, no one would have ever investigated. Galbraith wanted a law that had no safeguards at all, that simply provided immunity for prescribing doctors and relatives and friends who are with the patient when he takes the drugs and take no action to stop him. He actually got what he wanted. The limited safeguards in the Vermont law, fewer than those in the Oregon or Washington laws, completely go away after two years, leaving the patient completely unprotected from abuse and the citizens of VT, which already has a drug problem, completely unprotected from misuse of the prescribed drugs by people other than the patient. Vermont’s law is terrible, not just worse than Oregon’s and Washington’s but also worse than the bills that have just been rejected in New Hampshire and Massachusetts as dangerous. This dangerous bill passed because Hartwell and Galbraith disregarded the dangers laid out by the Vermont Medical Society, lawyers, and Vermont disability rights groups, and because House members very eagerly went along with the Senate.
In the long run, though, the legislation passed here in Vermont because of the fervor and deep pockets of the proponents and because of the apathy of most Vermont citizens, who did not go to their town meetings to counter the proponents and did not call their legislators in numbers as great as in 2007, when the bill was defeated in the House. If every Vermonter had taken the trouble to educate him or herself through this website and that of Vermont Alliance for Ethical Health Care, and if every Vermonter had read or listened on our youtube site to the testimony of doctors, lawyers, and people with disabilities, and then had called his or her legislator, Vermont today would not be one of only three US states with legal assisted suicide, surrounded by more sensible states. If we let this stand, we should be ashamed of ourselves.
The good thing about living in an elective democracy is that we can turn legislators out of office if we cannot persuade them to change their minds and make a public commitment to work for repeal. We go to the polls in November, 2014. We will know the day after, whether, in 2015, we can repeal this terrible, dangerous law. Once again, the choice is entirely up to us.