Vermont’s assisted suicide law was passed in 2013. In 2015, the legislature directed the health department to issue a biennial report on its implementation, requiring very little information, less than Oregon provides in its annual assisted suicide reports. It gives only the number of state reports filed by prescribers wishing to guarantee their immunity from civil or criminal prosecution, the underlying diseases the prescribers gave as motivating people to ask for the prescriptions, and the number and proportion of people getting prescriptions who actually took the drugs. Here is a link to this year’s report: http://aahpm.org/positions/pad. It shows all the inadequacies that we who opposed the legalization expected.
The report does not tell us what happened to the drugs that were not used by the five (possibly six) people who died from their disease after getting a prescription but not taking the drugs. Did they fill the prescriptions? If so, why is there no report of the drugs’ proper disposal, as required by the law?
The report doesn’t reassure us that people are not being hurt by legalized assisted suicide. Among those who may reasonably be thought to be are:
1.People who got prescriptions because the very existence of the law, or more specific suggestion, caused them to feel that their continued life in a state of needing care would be a burden to the government or their relatives: This is impossible to quantify, but Oregon’s more detailed report notes that a significant proportion of people ask for prescriptions in order not to be a burden to others. People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to this form of pressure, but no one is immune.
2. Victims of murder: The law leaves people unprotected after they get the prescription, requiring no witnesses at the time of ingestion and also mandating the falsification of the death certificate to list the underlying disease, rather than a lethal overdose of drugs, as the cause of death. The requirements render discovery and prosecution of any criminal activity impossible.
3. People with suicidal thoughts: The suicide rate is rising all over the country, and Vermont’s is now 35% above the national average. Have the national and state rises been fueled in part by widespread romanticized reporting on assisted suicide deaths in the runup to legalization in various states, including VT? When the suicide rate shot up everywhere after Oregon adopted its death with dignity law in 1997, the economy was blamed, while another obvious possible culprit, suicide contagion, was ignored. This report does not tell us what percentage of Vermonters who asked for assisted suicide were referred for psychological testing, though the National Institute of Mental Health estimated in 2016 that 6.7% of the U. S. adult population has suffered from at least one episode of major depression. Most suicidal patients suffer from depression, which is treatable, even in the terminally ill (https://www.mdedge.com/psychiatry/article/76850/depression/assessing-and-treating-depression-palliative-care-patients#). .
4. Patients who need hospice or palliative care: Publicity about people’s being pushed into palliative care and then into hospice, where they are drugged into stupors and not hydrated or fed, coupled with the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s “neutral” stance on assisted suicide, has led to fear of getting needed pain relief. Has legal assisted suicide corrupted hospice from the ideals of its founder, Dame Cecily Saunders?
5. People who are sick but not actually dying: Everyone knows people who have received a mistaken terminal diagnosis. There are also those who have a correct diagnosis of a disease that is terminal unless treated. Jeannette Hall of Oregon is a well-known spokesperson for the second group of people. She would have qualified for a prescription in Oregon, but her doctor talked her into undergoing treatment. Many years later, she speaks against assisted suicide. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ArZLG4PMa4
Assisted suicide laws expose the sick rich to being killed for their money, the sick needy to being killed to save the emotional and financial expense of their care. No possible assisted suicide legalization can protect against these dangers, which means suicide is never an act of autonomy. This writer heard an interview on National Public Radio’s “On Point” in which the daughter of a man who committed suicide says therapy helped her understand that his act was not a choice(https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510053/on-point). True Dignity does not know her opinion of assisted suicide, but she was right that this man did choose his suicide. He did not get support from anyone, much less a medical professional, as happens in assisted suicide, yet his suicide was not a choice. Still less is a suicide supported by a state, by doctors, and often by relatives. Suicide is never a free choice. It cannot be turned into one.
Vermont’s second assisted suicide report offers no reassurances that legalization offers any protection for anyone except the prescribing doctors, who are immune from prosecution and those who are with the patient when the drugs are ingested. They are the only ones this law makes safe.