We are writing in response to two pieces recently published in the Banner: your very fair article on the Manchester forum sponsored by proponents of assisted suicide in Vermont and the followup letter from Dr. David Babbott, one of the presenters at the forum. Dr. Babbott asserted that assisted suicide is only about choice. Here are some reasons why we believe H. 274, the eighth bill proponents of assisted suicide have introduced in their failed efforts to make it legal in Vermont, would undermine choice rather than protecting it, and why we urge our fellow Vermonters to make their opposition to this bill clear to legislators, asking them to defeat it yet again, hopefully once and for all, in 2011.
1. All laws are amended over time. The proposed bill’s alleged safeguards, already laughably inadequate, would be eroded or ignored without penalty. They have been ignored without penalty in Oregon. (http://www.dredf.org/assisted_suicide/97-DREDF-website-version.html: see the section on The Questionable Circumstances of Oregon Deaths).
2. Medicaid is the second largest state budget item. Vermont’s financial problems and the huge cost differential between assisted suicide and hospice care would lead to poor people’s being steered to assisted suicide. They have been in Oregon (www.vaeh.org/resources/Oregon%20Cases.doc. See Section Oregon’s Physician-Assisted Suicide Law – Abused and Exploited, p. 15 of 15).
3. People do not need physician assistance to commit suicide. The means are readily and obviously available. Everyone knows that; it needs no documentation.
4. The bill’s so-called safeguards protect doctors, not patients. The patient’s choice would vanish once he acquired the overdose. The bill does not require witnesses at the time of administration. What would prevent another person’s forcing a sick person to take it? If the person struggled, who would know? Even requiring witnesses would not prevent pressure to take the overdose from clues as subtle as exhausted glances between caregivers. It is impossible to write adequate safeguards into an inherently pressuring law. We know that much elder abuse is financial, so these pressures to die would affect affluent people (http://www.vtbar.org/Images/Journal/journalarticles/winter2011/PhysicianAssistedSuicide.pdf. )
5. Our taxpayer dollars would be used to pay for the inadequate record keeping required (George Eighmey, a presenter at the forum and a longtime assisted suicide advocate in Oregon, admitted that this is the case in Oregon).
6. State-sanctioned suicide for terminally ill people would send a message to people with other problems and disabilities that suicide is an acceptable solution and that their lives are not worth living. Oregon’s suicide rate started increasing in 2000, 3 years after that state legalized assisted suicide, and is now 35% higher than the national average (http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/news/2010news/2010-0909a.pdf?ga=t.0
7. Suicidal ideation is a symptom of depression that usually abates with treatment. Under this law, depressed people would receive lethal prescriptions instead. They have in Oregon (I G Finlay and R George, Legal Physician-assisted suicide in Oregon and The Netherlands: evidence concerning the impact on patients in vulnerable groups: another perspective on Oregon’s data, Journal of Medical Ethics, published online Nov. 11, 2010, unfortunately available only for a fee. Wewould be glad to share our copy with anyone interested. The link to buy the article is http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2010/11/10/jme.2010.037044.short?rss=1
For much more information, visit www.truedignityvt.org, an independent website founded by Vermonters to provide the information Vermonters need to fight assisted suicide.
Carolyn and Gerald McMurray
111 Chunks Brook Road
Arlington, VT 05250