Even before Vermont’s assisted suicide bill was signed into law yesterday, Boston radio station WBUR’s Commonhealth blog was asking the question: “Can We Go There to Die?” (http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2013/05/assisted-suicide-vermont).
The answer to that question, apparently, is yes. Here’s what the article says (we put the relevant line in boldface for emphasis:
I sent a query to Patient Choices Vermont, the group that spearheaded the state’s “end-of-life choices” bill, and heard back from Jessica Oski of Sirotkin & Necrason, a government relations firm that has represented Patient Choices Vermont for a decade. She writes:
1. To be qualified to use the assistance of the Vermont Patient Choice at End of Life Bill, a person must be “18 years of age or older, a resident of Vermont, and under the care of a physician.” There is no specific guidance under the law as to who qualifies as a Vermont resident.
2. In order for a physician to benefit from the immunity under the law the physician must be “licensed to practice medicine under 26 V.S.A chapter 23 or 33.” In other words, licensed in Vermont.
The way we read this, nothing in the law prohibits a person from coming to Vermont and getting the drugs after as few as the 18 days the law requires.
The requirement of a “bona-fide physician-patient relationship” is laughable, since the law requires nothing from the physician except a “treating or consulting” relationship” defined by his having “completed a full assessment of a patient’s medical history and current medical condition, including a personal physical examination”. There is no requirement that the patient’s primary care physician, who might really know him, be notified, much less consulted; in fact, though the law requires that the physician “refer” the patient to a second, consulting doctor, it does not actually require the patient to see that doctor. By contrast, the Oregon assisted suicide statute defines “attending physician” as “”…the physician who has primary responsibility for the care of the patient and treatment of the patient’s terminal disease” http://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Pages/ors.aspx. We know from Dr. Robert Bentz, an Oregon physician, that even this slightly more stringent definition of who can prescribe is abused to eliminate input from primary care physicians (http://www.montanansagainstassistedsuicide.org/2013/01/oregon-doctors-letter-to-medical-society.html).
The Massachusetts article asks whether a person could take his own willing doctor into VT to write the prescription, but that does seem to be prohibited by the requirement that the physician be licensed in Vermont.
Nothing in the law would stop patients from getting the drugs here and taking them back to their home states, so get ready, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, other states and possibly Canada and Mexico, anywhere that can be reached by land transportation that does not require handbags to undergo security checks.
Since the law requires no reporting of how many prescriptions are actually taken, we will never know what happens to these barbiturates.
True Dignity predicts that a few Vermont doctors will set up shop as suicide providers to write prescriptions for out of staters and Vermonters.
In Oregon, the majority of suicide prescriptions are written by physicians who are members of the advocacy group, Compassion and Choices. Compassion and Choices (http://www.pccef.org/DOWNLOADS/AssistedSuicidesbyCC2009report.pdf). George Eighmey, the retired director of Compassion and Choices of Oregon, was conspicuously present at yesterday’s signing ceremony. He told us he had flown in for the celebration.
Anyone who believes that the implementation of this law as been or will be an in-state project needs to think again. Oregon Compassion and Choices doctors will fly in just as Eighmey did time and again during the effort to pass legalization, only this time they will be showing doctors with Vermont licenses how to “do” the law.
After a small number of Vermont-licensed doctors have “learned” the process, they will function as “destination” physicians the way some Vermont churches have become wedding destinations for out of staters . The wedding couples come here because of Vermont’s beauty but perhaps also to avoid the marriage preparation a church nearer their home might require, which we see as an analogous to the counseling we hope a physician who knew the patient and was not an assisted suicide advocate would feel obligated to require of a anyone contemplating suicide. The patient will die without the help from his primary physician that might have saved his life, a life which, despite the terminal diagnosis, we know might have lasted for years.
This, we fear, is the future of Vermont under our new law. True Dignity Vermont will try its best to document the numbers and percentages of out-of-staters committing suicide here, if we can possibly locate the information under the veil of secrecy this terrible, crafted-on-the-fly law creates.