The 2011 Vermont legislature is history. Assisted suicide did not become law in Vermont. Neither of the identical House and Senate bills got so much as a hearing. Governor Shumlin had raised the expectations of proponents to the level of hubris by campaigning on the promise of legalization, but either he had other priorities or he simply realized he did not have the votes. House Speaker Shap Smith, another supporter, did the same.
We are celebrating because Vermont citizens united to tell the governor, the speaker, every legislator, and the press in no uncertain terms that we did not want and would not accept this unneeded and extremely dangerous piece of legislative social engineering.
We are celebrating because the coalition that formed to defeat assisted suicide was broad-based, including doctors and other medical personnel, disability rights advocates, religious groups, and concerned citizens from all walks of life. We were joined by the editors of the Burlington Free Press, the Bennington Banner, and the Caledonian Record. The Rutland Herald and Times Argus stayed silent after two admittedly unscientific but front page polls showed huge majorities opposed to legalization. This was truly a grassroots movement. People examined the legalization of assisted suicide from very different perspectives, and came together because every perspective revealed it to be unneeded and dangerous.
We are celebrating because we fought assisted suicide with civility, with reason, respecting but not pandering to the fears of the proponents. We did not respond in kind to the other side’s taunting and baiting talking points, especially the accusation repeated like a mantra that we were religious fundamentalists trying to impose our religious and moral views on everyone. The very experienced pro-assisted suicide activist, George Eighmey, brought in from Oregon in a failed effort to persuade Vermonters to follow his state’s example, did not manage to incite the kind of angry verbalizations that one might have expected and that he no doubt hoped for from his assertion that the nuns running a hospice where he worked as a teenager purposely withheld pain medications from dying patients so they could experience redemptive suffering. Honestly, this was the kind of thing they said!
We are celebrating because we were not distracted from our reasoned objections to legalization, which were based on the flaws in this year’s Vermont bill and on the problems that have arisen everywhere in the US and in the world where assisted suicide has become legal. We did not stop pointing out that the dangers of legalizing assisted suicide cannot be solved by any safeguards that could be written into any piece of legislation. We argued that assisted suicide is inherently pressuring and therefore fundamentally incompatible with freedom of choice for the sick, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
We are celebrating despite knowing that the Vermont proponents of assisted suicide will use the huge resources of the national assisted suicide/euthanasia lobby, from which they admitted getting $100,000 this year, to try to get legalization enacted in the second session of this biennium. Until recently they thought they had their best chance ever, because they have at least the spoken support of the governor, though this did not translate into any apparent effort in 2011.
We, however, have each other, as long as we do not become complacent. We are the people of Vermont. With the conclusion of this session, we have successfully fought off eight efforts to legalize assisted suicide in our state. If we have to, we can and will do it again. We will stay organized. To all who have helped and will help in this effort, we offer our heartfelt thanks.
We are indeed celebrating, but we are not letting down our guard for one minute.