Tomorrow will mark a week since Senators Dick Sears (D-Bennington), the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator John Campbell (D-Windsor), the Senate Pro Tem, made a decision not to bring S 103, the bill that would have legalized assisted suicide, to any vote. The day after the Judiciary Committee held hearings on the bill, Alice Nitka (D-Windsor), one of the three “No” votes on the five member committee, fell six feet off a staircase in the apartment she rented during the legislative session, injuring her spleen so that it had to be removed. She was in the hospital on March 16, the last day on which a bill could pass out of committee and come up for a floor vote. Without her presence, a Judiciary Committee vote on the bill would have resulted in a tie, which means, under parliamentary rules, that it would have had to be tabled; in other words, a tie vote has the same effect as a negative vote. Under those circumstances, Senators Sears and Campbell made the decision to hold no vote at all. Remember that holding any vote at all would have deprived Senator Nitka of her chance to vote and deprived the opposition to the bill of a definite “No” vote.
Governor Shumlin made campaign promises to pass this bill, and he has shown his anger at Senator Sears by giving an interview to the Bennington Banner, the leading newspaper in Sears’s district, calling Sears’s decision wrong and asserting that, though the votes were not there in the Senate to pass it, “I “thought I could get the votes once it got there.” He wasn’t going to pressure anyone, he told the Banner, on what he called, as has Senator Sears, a conscience vote. Yet he wanted it to be brought to the floor, even with an adverse recommendation from the committee. “I was,” he said, “just trying to influence the process.” “I might,” he added, “have been able to prevail.” Note that he makes no promises to the supporters of assisted suicide that he could have gotten it passed. He only says it MIGHT have passed (http://www.benningtonbanner.com/ci_20218156/shumlin-death-bill-might-have-passed).
In the wake of their killing of the bill, Senators Sears and Campbell have been subjected to a barrage of criticism. The Bennington Banner, which opposes legalizing assisted suicide, still called their action in preventing a vote “anti-democratic but acceptable” (http://www.benningtonbanner.com/editorials/ci_20210070/anti-democratic-but-an-acceptable-call).
If the Banner called Sears and Campbell “anti-democratic” in using parliamentary rules to keep a vote on assisted suicide from happening, what would it have called Shumlin if he had been able to “influence the process”, not only by holding the vote at a time when Senator Nitka could not have been present but by “influencing” Senators who had told constituents that they oppose assisted suicide to vote for it?
As we write, there is a concerted campaign of letter writing and calls designed to pressure Sears and Campbell to allow a vote on the bill in this session. This would require some kind of suspension of the rules by which the Senate works. We predict that won’t happen.
Sadly, we also predict that this legislation will be back in every session of the legislature in the foreseeable future.
True Dignity represents a few of the many, many Vermonters who believe allowing assisted suicide to become legal in our state would greatly threaten the lives of our elders, people with disabilities, anyone who feels sad and alone, and the poor. Furthermore abuses or errors associated with assisted suicide won’t be detectable; the dead cannot report abuse. Abuses or errors cannot be corrected, because death is final. We stand ready to fight against assisted suicide as long as the proponents fight for it.
How wonderful it would be, however, if, after eight failed efforts to legalize assisted suicide, the people of Vermont could stop fighting over suicide and join hands to fight for what Dr. Ira Byock, chief of palliative medicine at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, told Vermont Public Radio last week is really needed: a health care system that will “help people feel honored, worthy, and dignified through their very last days (http://www.vpr.net/episode/53221/new-look-at-end-of-life-care/).”