The House Human Services Committee this afternoon voted to approve S.108, the bill that calls for the repeal of the “sunset provision” in Act 39 (not to be confused with a wholesale repeal of Act 39). It is expected that the bill will be debated on the House floor next week, possibly Wednesday.
“Repealing the sunset” would mean that the law will retain the few so-called protections that were included in the original bill that was passed and became law in 2013. Without a repeal of the sunset, these minimal protections, which primarily relate to the procedure around obtaining a prescription, are scheduled to go away in July 2016. As Guy Page testified last week on behalf of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, “Without the sunset, Act 39 gets an ‘F’. With it, it rates an ‘F-minus’. A distinction without a difference.”
Despite hearing compelling testimony that highlighted the need to scrap Act 39 altogether, the Committee voted to move forward with S.108. They attached a virtually meaningless amendment to give the Department of Health permission to create a report on compliance with the law and to release non-identifying information to the public. The amendment followed lengthy discussion about concerns relating to the lack of data collection called for under Act 39, and the difficulty of evaluating the law with so little data. It will be impossible to study patterns, such as whether socio-economic barriers contribute to requests for physician-assisted suicide or whether certain health care providers are associated with higher use of assisted-suicide.
The only official information known is how many prescription applications have been completed properly, according to the Law.
Among the many data points not known nor required under Act 39:
How many prescriptions are actually written; how many prescriptions are taken; whether anyone was present at the time of ingestion; whether there were complications; how many patients died from their underlying illness without taking the prescription; what happened to the lethal drugs if the patient died without taking them; how many patients have outlived their 6-month prognosis; was the patient still capable of making a decision at the time the lethal dose was taken; was the person able to self-administer the lethal medication; how long did it take to die as a result of taking the lethal dose; did the patient have access to quality medical care and palliative care.
These are just a few of the many unknowns related to Act 39. Advocates for Act 39 have sought out and publicized a couple of instances of people using Act 39 to end their lives, suggesting that these cases are illustrative of all situations. We know that is not the case, and that abuse, coercion and even murder are all possible under this law.
All we really know about Act 39 is that it is a terrible, dangerous law– a tragedy waiting to happen.
As we have been saying for years, “good law has little or no negative unintended consequences.” Act 39 does not meet that test. Call your representatives today, if you haven’t already, and ask them to vote for nothing less than a wholesale Repeal of Act 39.