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True Dignity Vermont is a grassroots, independent, citizen-led initiative in opposition to assisted suicide in Vermont. Vermonters deserve true dignity and compassion at the end of life, not the abandonment of assisted suicide. Killing is not compassion, and True Dignity Vermont will work to ensure our end-of-life choices respect the dignity of all Vermont citizens.

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If he had had enough votes to pass it, Senate President Stephen Sweeney would surely have called it to the floor yesterday, December 18. According to disability rights activist John Kelly, “The next scheduled voting session of the Senate is January 13, and if Sweeney has the votes by then, it will surely be posted. Additional voting sessions will be held on February 2nd and 24th; March 5th and 16th.”  We need to stay alert and be ready to respond at any time.

We can hope that our efforts and particularly the efforts of the disability rights community and numerous citizens of New Jersey raised doubts in the minds of some legislators who might have been inclined to follow their leadership or the emotional advertising of the Brittany Maynard case and vote for this.  Thanks to all who called or emailed.

Senator Sweeney has said he is waging an “educational campaign” to get senators to vote for this.  We need to counter it with our own educational campaign.

If you have not yet called or emailed, please please do so.  We at True Dignity know the other side is also registering its opinion, because one of the staff people who answered  a board member’s call interrupted her before she could speak more than two words, saying, “Death with Dignity?”  We cannot let C&C seem to have greater numbers than we do.

As always, the arguments you make should be civil, reasoned, not religious, and not focused on palliative care.

Religious reasons are as valid as any, but the opponents call us religious fanatics who are trying to impose our views on others.  Unfortunately, this tactic has been successful for them, especially in Washington state.  In Vermont, after our bishop gave excellent testimony, one state senator said he didn’t want anybody else’s bishop present at his deathbed!

Palliative care arguments, equally valid, are also turned against us by the proponents.  The same VT senator said after Dr. Ira Byock testified that he did not want him in charge of his end of life care; and the proponents say they agree with us that better palliative care is needed, but that assisted suicide should also be an option, not because it does not work but because some people are not willing to be dependent.  We say that these people need society to tell them it wants to care for them and they need not feel that they are a burden.  Offering assisted suicide sends exactly the opposite message.  If you are going to talk about palliative care, please make that final point.

Focusing on the dangers of error and abuse and the impossibility of eliminating them by so-called “safeguards” is best.

If you have already called or emailed, give the senators a break for a while.  We will let you know when to contact them again.  Again, if you have not made contact, it is good to interrupt Senator Sweeney’s campaign by doing it now.

Thanks to www.noassistedsuicidenj.org  for this alphabetical list of the New Jersey Senators, with each one’s phone number and email address.

http://noassistedsuicidenj.org/images/NJ%20Legislators.pdf

Yesterday we stopped calling when we heard that the assisted suicide bill is not posted for debate and a vote on Thursday, December 18.  Since that time, however, we have heard that the bill was not posted for a vote in the lower house on the day the leadership suddenly called it up and the house passed it.  Not posting the vote could be a similar political ploy.

With that in mind, we need to continue our calls and emails today and even tonight.  The vote could take place any time, without warning.

Obviously the most important people are those from New Jersey, but everyone should call and email.  When the leadership of True Dignity was making calls yesterday, we found it useful to say right away that we were from out of state and that we were calling because what happens in New Jersey will have an effect far beyond that state.  We said that we are from Vermont, where assisted suicide is legal but has not been used.  We expressed our certainty that, if it spreads from state to state and becomes socially acceptable, it will be used, and that that is when the abuses and the errors will occur.

If you are told that the bill is not slated for a vote, don’t stop.  Say you want to make your concerns known anyway.  At the end, ask the person if he or she will make your concerns known to the senator.  That makes it harder for staff people to shield their senators.

Remember, always be respectful, and do not use religious arguments.  Otherwise your call may hurt rather than help.

Thank you for helping.

 

 

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Members of the Board of True Dignity were in the process of calling each NJ senator’s district office to urge him or her to vote against assisted suicide when we heard this wonderful news from the office of Senator Thomas Kean Jr.  Having squeaked through committee with no recommendation, the assisted suicide legislation we thought would come up for a vote on Thursday has instead been pulled.  We can be pretty sure there are not currently enough votes to pass it.

Once again, another state legislature has demonstrated better sense than the one in Vermont.  We should never let our legislators forget that they are the only ones who, after having had the opportunity to hear testimony about the dangers of legalizing assisted suicide, went ahead and made it legal anyway.  While people in Oregon and Washington may have voted out of emotion, without having had the opportunity to learn about the real risks, our legislators had no such excuse.  With every rejection in other states, our chances of repeal here increase.

We can all take a brief rest, but we need to stay tuned and be ready to act.  Senate President Sweeney wants this legislation and has promised to “educate” other senators.  Some serious arm-twisting will be going on over the holiday recess.  After the holidays, we still think everybody should call every senator.  We had the list of each one, with phone numbers, all ready to post.  We’ll post in early January, when the senate comes back into session.

Thanks so much to everybody, especially the disability rights activists who protested their original exclusion from committee hearings, then traveled long distances and waited, some of them for four hours, to give testimony that was both reasoned and moving.  Thanks especially to Meghan Schrader, who spoke for Second Thoughts Massachusetts, and Stephen Mendelsohn, of  Second Thoughts Connecticut.

Here’s the link to the same article we posted earlier, only now there is a correction at the end, saying the bill is not posted for Thursday.

http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/12/with_reluctance_nj_senate_panel_releases_aid_in_dying_bill.html

 

“Reluctantly” is the word that gives us hope that legalization of assisted suicide in NJ can still be defeated, although, frankly, the chances are not as good as we would like, and NJ governor Christie, who has said he will veto any assisted suicide bill, will likely be called upon to do that.

Here is a link to the Newark Star Ledger article about yesterday’s testimony and vote, the article that uses the word “reluctantly:

http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/12/with_reluctance_nj_senate_panel_releases_aid_in_dying_bill.htmlv

We hear, but cannot confirm, that the committee received many more emails and tweets from opponents of the bill than from proponents.

It is not too late to communicate with the senators, urging them to vote no on this dangerous bill, keeping your statement short and referencing the fact that this is a bill that will destroy true choice and true dignity for people with disabilities, including disabilities associated with aging, people with greedy heirs the law allows to be alone with them at the time they ingest the lethal dose, people with wrong prognoses, people with suicidal thoughts engendered by depression or existential angst, and people dependent on state insurance programs like Medicaid.

Please remember to cite practical, not religious, reasons.  Always keep in mind that the proponents of this bill have been very successful with the strategy of saying that opposition to assisted suicide is solely a matter of religious people’s trying to oppose their beliefs on everybody.

It is also better not to talk about palliative care, because the proponents will just agree with you and say assisted suicide should be another option.  Also palliative care can be abused and is being cited disturbingly as a way to cut health care costs.

The process is cumbersome but worth it.  You have to go to this link: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/Selectmun.asp, then select a municipality, then enter your information and your comment.  You do not have to be a citizen of New Jersey, but if you are your opinion will obviously hold more weight.  Here are the municipalities of the three committee senators who said they will vote against the bill on the floor but who will be under pressure to change their minds if there is any doubt of the final vote count, just as they were under pressure from Senate President Stephen Sweeney to pass the bill out of committee despite their concerns.  Sweeney says he is going to conduct an “educational campaign” in the three days before the vote.  Translate that as an arm-twisting campaign.  Ask these senators not to be “educated” in that way:

Jim Whelan (Atlantic)

Robert Gordon (Bergen)

Joseph Vitale (Middlesex)

The really dedicated can search for each senator by name and get the municipalities that way.  We are going to do that.

We were going to write that you could tweet these guys, but one after the other twitter feed has been disabled.

Think Oregon’s assisted suicide law is killing people “safely”?  W. Carol Cleigh has gone through the annual reports, and what she finds is alarming, in terms of what we know and in terms of what we will never know.  Here’s her article, in italics:

 

It has been widely asserted in the media storm promoting Physician Assisted Suicide since the death of Brittany Maynard, that there are no abuses of the Oregon ‘Death with Dignity Act’ (DWDA). But is that true? I got curious and this is the result.

Initially, the DWDA was only for long-term residents of Oregon. This changed some time in the past 15 years, but under the original law, Maynard wouldn’t have been eligible since one had to live in Oregon for six months or longer to qualify. While it’s not ‘suicide tourism,’ it seems to trend in that direction. All one must do now is have an Oregon drivers license.

Anyone with a calculator can determine from the report that the Oregon public health agency posts each year that there has been a greater than 500% increase in the number of lethal prescriptions written annually and a corresponding greater than 500% increase in deaths.* That is fairly startling.

 Overall, during the past 15 years, a mere 6% have been referred for “formal psychiatric or psychological evaluation.” That is pitiful. What is even worse, though, is that even that number seems to be declining. Last year, fewer than 3% were referred. This seems to mean that the physicians prescribing these drugs feel that they are capable of spotting treatable depression and ‘weeding out’ those who have it or they simply don’t care. This is less surprising given that only 62 of Oregon’s more than 11,700 physicians# wrote all of the lethal prescriptions last year. This means that ½ of 1% of the physicians in Oregon write such prescriptions, many wrote several and one wrote 14% of them. Death seems to have become a specialty.

Another disturbing trend in Oregon is an increase in the number of people who had only Medicare/Medicaid at the time they ‘chose’ DWDA (53% this year vs. 34% during previous years). Given that we’ve seen more than one case where Medicaid denied coverage for life-extending treatments and even for effective painkillers, then made the point that DWDA was covered in their denial letters, this trend is ominous. It is even more so when coupled with the increase in “burden on family, friends/caregivers” as a reason to take the lethal prescription (49% this year vs. 39% previously). The ‘end of life concern’ labeled “financial implications of treatment” has also nearly doubled this year, from less than 3% to more than 5.5%. Are people in Oregon killing themselves for money? It would certainly seem so and it would seem that this is on the increase.

There is another trend that is difficult to evaluate. A lot fewer of those who used the DWDA this year had cancer than in previous years (65% vs. 80% in previous years). There has been a corresponding increase in “chronic lower respiratory disease” and “other illness.” It is difficult, however, to say what this trend may portend as all of these categories are check marks on a form the physicians who write these poison prescriptions turn in voluntarily. There is no meaningful oversight when all reporting is voluntary.

The “other illness” category is troubling in itself as it includes: “benign and uncertain neoplasms, other respiratory diseases, diseases of the nervous system (including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease), musculoskeletal and connective tissue diseases, viral hepatitis, diabetes mellitus, cerebrovascular disease, and alcoholic liver disease.”* Since several of these are long-term disabling conditions that are often mistaken for terminal illnesses, this is a category you could load up a bus with non-terminal disabled people and drive through. For all we know, people could be dying rather than adjusting to disabling conditions. That the number of deaths in this troubling category has more than trebled in the past year is disquieting.

Then there is the problem of lethal prescriptions that aren’t used. Where are they? Who has them? There is no requirement that they be returned or destroyed. At the end of 2013 there were more than 420 lethal prescriptions unaccounted for. That is enough to kill several years’ worth of people reported to die under the DWDA. Is there a ‘black market’ in these ‘unused’ lethal prescriptions? We don’t know because no one is investigating. It doesn’t seem to bother the Oregon department of public health that there are several hundred of bottles of Secobarbital and Pentobarbital without any proper control.

What seems to have happened in Oregon is that people in distress, or their families (caregivers, etc.); contact Compassion & Choices (Hemlock Society). C&C assigns a volunteer to ‘help’ them through the process. They, of course, know the ‘right’ physicians that will not question motives or psychological health. This volunteer goes so far as to mix the poison for them and, presumably, to help them ingest it if necessary.@ This is why the average length of the physician-patient relationship is only 13 weeks (90 days) and in some cases spans only 1week (in violation of the DWDA as it is supposed to take 15 days to get the prescription).

Death has become an industry in Oregon and C&C essentially controls it. If lethal prescriptions are not used, do their volunteers keep them? Since C&C’s stated intent is to ‘help’ non-terminal disabled people and others not covered by DWDA die,** are they using these ‘spare’ prescriptions for that purpose?

So, is there abuse of the DWDA in Oregon? The simple answer is yes. There are some abuses showing through even in the voluntary reports, but there are a lot more questions. Are there major abuses? Maybe. We may never know, but with an organization with the stated objectives and shady past of C&C essentially in charge of the process, it’s very likely.

*http://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Documents/year16.pdf

 

# Based upon the US average of physicians making up .6% of the labor force which in Oregon was 1.95M according to the 2010 Census. http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF

*http://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Documents/year16.pdf

@ http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/08/30/assisted.suicide.oregon/index.html

** http://www.notdeadyet.org/?s=Cleigh

 

  1. Carol Cleigh is a writer and disability rights activist; while living in Chicago, she served on the boards of Not Dead Yet, Progress Center for Independent Living, Chicago ADAPT and the Council for Disability Rights. She co-founded Suburban Access Squad, served on the Pace, Metra and CTA ADA advisory committees and wrote for the Ragged Edge. In 2003, she retired to the mountains of Western North Carolina where she continues her activism at a much slower pace.

 

Below are links to the testimonies sent to the NJ Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee by disability rights leaders, after Senator John Vitale, chairman of the committee prevented them from giving personal testimony.

The passage of assisted suicide in NJ would be a blow for efforts to repeal the Vermont law.  It would be a great victory for the “movement” (as Patient Choices’ Dick Walters called it) to expand legal assisted suicide to every state in the US and every country in the world.

Let’s not give the proponents that victory.  Your testimony doesn’t have to be perfect.  It doesn’t have to be scholarly, though we appreciate scholars too.  It just has to be heartfelt and civil.  Say why you feel that you or someone you care about will have their choice to live harmed if this law is adopted.  Remember to avoid religious arguments, as they will be used against us in the most vicious way.  One only has to read the comments to recent articles in the media to know that.

Numbers count.  Quality counts, but numbers count more.

We would love to receive copies of the testimony you send in.

The email for the Senate Committee is [email protected].  The deadline is 1 pm tomorrow, December 8, when the committee will take up the bill.

Diane Coleman JD: www.bluejersey.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=26102

Amy Hasbrouck: http://www.bluejersey.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=26109

Cassie Cramer: http://www.bluejersey.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=26108

John Kelly http://www.bluejersey.com/…/john-b-kelly-testimony-against-…

Stephen Mendelsohn:http://www.bluejersey.com/…/stephen-mendelsohn-of-second-th…

Ruthie Poole http://www.bluejersey.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=26101

Ethan Ellis: http://www.bluejersey.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=26110

As readers of our blog already know, the New Jersey State Assembly recently passed an assisted suicide bill.  The bill is now in the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee, where it will be debated at 1 pm on Monday, December 8.

Disability Rights groups, who are not being allowed to testify in the hearing, are asking people to flood the committee with short emails of opposition to this bill, S. 382.  The email address is [email protected].

Obviously, people with disability, elders who fear abuse, and people from New Jersey will be most important in this effort.  We all have a stake in the outcome, however, so we urge everyone to write.  It is OK if you come from another state.

Please keep the letters short (a page or less) and to the point, perhaps focusing on only one aspect of this issue, that will most affect you or someone you care about.

While we deeply respect the views of all who think assisted suicide is wrong for religious reasons, we need to understand that the proponents of this have found a very effective tool in claiming that it is purely a religious issue and that religious people want to impose their views on everyone.  We need to be practical and deny them this weapon.  We ask, therefore, that you give concrete practical reasons why you think this bill is dangerous and would result in some people dying prematurely against their completely free will.  Ask yourself if your reasons would be understood by someone with no religious beliefs at all.

Some good points to make are :

1 Assisted suicide devalues the lives of people with disabilities.  Only dying people can get the drugs, and everyone who is dying becomes disabled at some point.  People with disabilities already have to fight for needed services and report being pressured to decline treatment they want.  Many would be terminally ill without care.  They will surely feel pressure to commit suicide if assisted suicide is legal.

2.  Assisted suicide provides a new vehicle for elder abuse, which is already rampant.  Once a patient gets the prescription,  he might as well have advertised that anyone can kill him with impunity.  Someone else can pick up the prescription.  The laws do not require witnesses at the time of ingestion, so a greedy heir or exasperated caregiver can give it to the patient without his even knowing what he is taking.

3.  Assisted suicide is much cheaper than treatment or care.  Legal assisted suicide will result in people’s getting insurance denials for care, while assisted suicide is offered as a covered alternative.

4.  People will die years earlier than they would have.   A woman who asked her Oregon doctor for assisted suicide but was lucky enough to have a doctor who talked her into accepting treatment is alive and happy and fighting assisted suicide 14 years later.

5.  People with suicidal ideation caused by treatable depression will be given assisted suicide prescriptions instead.  It is completely up to the doctor whether to request a psychiatric evaluation before prescribing lethal drugs.

6. Families will be stunned and traumatized by learning that a loved one has committed suicide without telling them.  This has happened in European countries where this is legal.

You can probably think of more reasons to oppose assisted suicide.  The important thing is that the emails be short, to the point, give practical reasons, and be sent in numbers.  Again the address is [email protected].

Please do this.  No one else can do it for you.  Get your friends to write too.  Please, for all our sakes.  Remember, the proponents are empowered by every state victory they get, and we opponents are empowered by every state battle we win.  Let’s win this one.

 

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