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February 17, 2011

'Right-To-Die' Bill Introduced in Legislature

DWD Presser Armed with a new poll that says 64 percent of Vermonters support a right-to-die law, a group of lawmakers introduced legislation today that would give terminally ill patients the choice of ending their own lives.

After intense lobbying, the group Patient Choices Vermont secured 43 co-sponsors for H-274, including every House member from Burlington, minus Republican Kurt Wright and Democrat Johannah Leddy Donovan. Rep. Donna Sweaney (D-Windsor) is the lead sponsor. The bill was unveiled by Patient Choices Vermont founder Dick Walters (pictured at podium) and other supporters during a Statehouse press conference this morning.

Two things give supporters hope that "death with dignity" will pass this year: Gov. Peter Shumlin supports it (former Gov. Jim Douglas did not); and a new Zogby poll commissioned by Patient Choices Vermont, and released today, shows broad support for the legislation.

The Death With Dignity National Center in Oregon, where the nation's first right-to-die law was passed in 1997, has targeted Vermont as the most likely state for a legislative victory this year. The center's executive director was in Vermont in December to meet with Shumlin and organizers for the effort. Click here for more background.

The Zogby telephone survey was conducted on February 11 and asked 600 likely Vermont voters: "Would you support or oppose legislation to give a mentally competent adult, dying of a terminal disease with a prognosis of less than 6 months to live, the right to request and take medication to peacefully hasten death?" The results: 64 percent support, 26 percent oppose and 10 percent aren't sure.

That's actually lower support for right-to-die legislation than in previous Zogby polls. A 2007 survey showed 82 percent of Vermonters supported the bill. That same year, the House voted down a right-to-die bill 63 to 82.

The survey also asked respondents to react to this statement: "I should be able to make my own choices about what happens to me at the end of my life without the government, doctors, or the church telling me what to do." The results: 68 percent strongly agree, 18 percent somewhat agree, 4 percent somewhat disagree, 8 percent strongly disagree, 3 percent not sure.

Opponents of "physician-assisted suicide" — including the Catholic Church, disability rights groups like the Vermont Center for Independent Living, and medical professionals like Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare — are planning a full-court press to stop the bill. Both the Vermont Center for Independent Living and the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare have started airing television commercials in opposition to the bill (the ad below is one VCIL aired in January).

In the ad, former Vermont lawmaker Lynne Cleveland Vitzthum, whose 28-year-old son has cerebral palsy and autism, explains her concerns over a right to die law, saying, "People with disabilities are seen a potential burden on their families. ...Those are the people who are most at risk of being convinced to let themselves die so they no longer burden somebody else."


As written, the bill would give terminally ill patients with fewer than six months to live the option to request a prescription for medication that would hasten death — ordinarily, an overdose of a barbiturate such as Secobarbital or Pentobarbital. The bill has safeguards meant to prevent abuse. The patient would have to request the medication numerous times and have a witness.

Dr. Joseph Nasca, a Georgia-based pediatrician and interim president of Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, previously told Seven Days the practice would amount to a "transgression of medical" practice." He also took issue with the phrasing of the Zogby poll question, saying, "To me it conjures up this image of a person who's dying in pain and a doctor giving some morphine to alleviate suffering."

I suspect that the suffering that this bill is aimed at relieving involves primarily the suffering of people unwillingly caring for the terminally ill.

I think everyone has the right to die. Afterall our founding fathers estabished the right to life, with the right to life also by definition comes the right to death. That said, it is a corruption of the medical field, which are there to save lives not end them. Moreover the decision to end one's life should not be taken lightly. As such it would seem appropriate to not legislate assisted death but instead legislate that insurance companies can not withhold payment if a person commits suicide, nor should there be any other repercussions. Simply, if you want to die, YOU should be given the option to do so. If you can't kill yourself you don't want to die that badly.

I suspect that the "suffering" that this bill is aimed at relieving involves the "suffering" of those who no longer wish to pay for treatment for the terminally ill. Dying will always be the most cost-effective option.

I disagree completely. Have you ever felt the pain of your loved one asking you to let them die?

Well medically speaking, you have no right to make medical decisions regarding loved ones. They and they alone make decisions. So I'm not entirely sure why they would ask you to let them die. They are free to choose not to take medication for example and hasten their own demise. Physician assisted suicide is indeed a slippery slope. I think if someone wants to end their life they can find the means to do so. People need to take responsibility for the decisions. If they want to die, let them kill themselves. We don't need doctors for this. Nor do we need laws spelling out how or what is an accpeptable way to do it.

I suspect that the obviously canned responses from opponents of the bill here speak for themselves.

Think for yourselves and read the bill, not the propaganda from the usual suspects opposing our right to choose not to die suffering.

This is a bill about choice.. not mandate. It's worked well in Oregon with no evidence of abuse.


What is the choice though? Do you not have the right to end your life right now? Of course you do.

"Obviously canned"
Oh, you're on to me (jumps out window).

Thank you, Barbara. As you have said, this is about a choice, not a mandate. Why is choice so threatening to people? Over and over again, Vermonters struggle listening to those who want to avoid choice. If you are terminally ill, in pain, and don't want to end your life with assistance from your doctor, may that happen for you. If you are terminally ill, in pain, and want to end your life with assistance from your doctor, may that happen for you. Those two ideas can exist together.

Diane, I ask the same thing I asked Barbara

Do you not have the choice currently to end your own life?

We are headed to a situation where the State pays for everyone's healthcare, and we are told that most medical costs are incurred at the end of life. Is it not fair to be suspicious that an assisted suicide law may open the door to abuse? Is it inconceivable that patients may be pressured into suicide or that vulnerable patients may simply be euthanized in the name of the "greater good"?

This is an issue that society has never had to deal with until recent decades; I would assume this is because life expectancy was lower in the past. I find that any overt emphasis on end of life care stems not so much from a great desire of the elderly to prolong their own lives, but from their family (and ultimately society) finding themselves unable to deal with the reality of mortality; the reality of death, and perhaps the nascent realization that they themselves are not immortal.

As our culture appears to be increasingly obsessed with youth and vitality, elderly people slip through the cracks. I remember a Seven Days article from some months back that was all about a coming crisis in Vermont's elder-care system, and possible criminal negligence on the part of those we task with the care of our elderly.

I fear that this disdain of the elderly, and the desire of society to hide them from view, and keep up a charade of immortality that permeates our culture is personified in its ultimate form in this proposed bill. No matter how much choice it purports to give the individuals in question in ending their own lives, the possibility of misuse and abuse of this statute seems to my mind to outweigh any purported merciful benefits or elements.

Prejudice of any kind is by its very nature hidden by those that hold those prejudicial views; views possibly unknown to even themselves. If the way we discuss and treat our elderly in Vermont is any indication, many more people have prejudice against this vulnerable population than would be willing to admit as much. That is why anyone who cares in any way at all for the civil rights and liberties of the most vulnerable among us would protest any "death with dignity" legislation with the utmost vehemence.

I have read the above article and comments with great interest.

This subject is of course a medical, legal and religious minefield and notwithstanding all the debate that will ensue, I want to go on record as being one of those people who WANT the right to die with dignity at a point in time of my choosing. I want all of the safeguards that society will require, and I DO NOT want any of the social stigma that can be associated with this practice.(Committing suicide)

In the interests of full disclosure I am a 65 year old male in excellent health, and anticipate many more good years yet to come. But when the time is right I want the right to end it all with dignity.

To introduce another thread to this subject: I am a full believer that most of the worlds troubles can be put at the foot of "overpopulation". As such I believe that it is in Mankind’s interest to encouraging those who wish to depart, rather than insist that they live for ever-expanding life expectancies

Peter, I too am also stead fast in the idea that it is my life and I have a right to end it whenever I please. I personally however do not need any law is needed for that to occur. Ending your life is not difficult, although there are social stigmas who cares ... you will be dead.

Regardless, I don't believe any doctor should deliver a dose of anything that intentionally causes someone to die. At best I would support them putting medication on the table but requiring the patient to take it on their own.

No JCARTER not everyone does have the ability to end their life. There are situations where the person can say under certain circumstances they would like their life to be ended. these decisions would be when that individual was of sound mind. They may be sick and fall into a coma or have a stroke or heart attack due to their chronic disease that would then leave them unable to decide to end their own life. The fact that you actually pretend to know how EVERYONE reaches their own end of life as if their is only ONE way to die just shows how ignorant you are on this issue and quite frankly as a human being.

I've read for many months your comments here and its always the same know-it-all righteous non-sense. It strikes me as odd coming from a conservative.

Also, to your point of not eating as a way to die, that is not ending one's own life peacefully. This will cause suffering for many people. So in essence you would prefer to see people suffer then to simply have the ability to make an agreement with their Doctor to end their own life on their terms.

Well I guess your belief in the value of individual rights only extends to the areas where you have decided what is right and wrong for the rest of us. Please be sure to comment back on all the other things that I'm doing wrong in my life so I can change them immediately in order to meet your moral standard.

@JCARTER = 100% Wrong

It is rather hypocritical to tell me that I have decided what is "right or wrong" for the rest of us by telling me I'm wrong... don't you think?

I'm not telling you how to live, I'm not telling you what is right and wrong, or anything of the sort. Don't take it personally, I don't even know who you are.

As to your comment, I don't think it is ignorant to generalize. It is a bit idealistic to pretend that we can anticipate every single event that may lead to every possiblity and ensure that every one of those is provided for. Since we can, one is typically forced to generalize. It isn't ignorant it is being realistic. As for coma's, heart attacks, etc... no new law needs to be enacted to provide for this, you can specificy DNR's etc RIGHT NOW!! A Right to die doesn't change or effect these things.

You haven't read for many months my comments on here. I haven't been posting for many months. Try and stick to factual evidence, preferably on topic. It makes it easier to discuss topics, which is afterall the purpose of this forum.

What does being a conservative have to do with having an opinion? Why can't a conservative, have an opinion that they believe in and argue? I'm lost on this, unless you were merely trying to point out to every one that I'm a conservative. What does that even mean anymore? BTW, while a fiscal conservative I align really with neither party very well. Just FYI, not that it matters.

No I don't prefer to see people suffer, however if your pain is so great you willing to end your own life I hardly think that a little bit of hunger would stop you. Moreover a needle and a shot of air is both rather painless, costs a few bucks and will have the same effect, pretty much instantly I might add as well. If you can't figure out how to end your life then there is another good reason why you shouldn't be allowed to....sound mind. That's not the point though. The point is if you don't have the balls to end your own life, you really dont want it ended that badly. And I for one am sick and tired of everyone wanting to shirk responsibility for things, have someone else do everything for them. Stand up for yourself, take some personal responsiblity and do for yourself. If you want individual rights act like and individual. This isn't a team sport.

Moreover, you misrepresent what I said in "essence." It would be much easier if you just stuck to what I said.

I do believe in individual rights, and have argued for exactly that. An individuals right to end their life. Nothing more and Nothing less.

If you have some facts or points you would like I am perfectly willing to listen, but try to tone down the emotional arguments a little. No one every won an argument based on emotion.

Just took down a comment that contained numerous personal attacks. Here's a friendly reminder: Keep the discussion civil, please, and don't resort to name-calling.

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