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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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You can start following the movement by going to:

https://www.facebook.com/RepealAct39

And here’s a preview of some of the ads!

Repeal Act 39

Well the people who got the dangerous Vermont assisted suicide law through the legislature in 2013 have now decided it needs to be made “safer”, meaning more like the Oregon and Washington laws.  An AP article to which we won’t link has appeared in several newspapers this morning.

This time we at True Dignity agree with the hawkers of assisted suicide.  The Vermont law, especially after its nominal protections expire in 2016, is unsafe.

Where we disagree is on the possibility of making it safe.  The Oregon law is not safe, for all the reasons we have listed over the years, first among them the fact that it requires no witnesses at the time of death, making it impossible to know when a very sick person who got the prescription only for “peace of mind” is pressured, coerced, or even forced to take a lethal dose of barbiturates.  Without that requirement, it is impossible to know what happened at any bedside, even Brittany Maynard’s.  Furthermore, because of the extreme subtlety of the pressures that can cause a person to commit suicide, such laws cannot be made “safe”, even by requiring witnesses, even by surrounding the implementation of assisted suicide with so many rules and so much bureaucracy that the proponents would say the purpose of creating a so-called “beautiful”, so-called “peaceful” death had been sabotaged.   The very ones who want the inadequate Oregon style regulations put back into the Vt law are opposed to adding protections like a witness requirement that would attempt to protect patients after they had acquired the prescription.  We can be sure that some VT legislators, like Peter Galbraith, one of the two senators, both now retired, whose refusal to vote for an Oregon style bill gave us the current one that even proponents now say they need to make “safer”, would not vote for a bill with stronger protections than Oregon’s.  Remember, the Oregon style bill was voted down in the Senate.  Only a last minute to capitulation to Senators Galbraith and Hartwell, who wanted a bill essentially without any regulations, resulted in its passage.

We are, however, grateful to pro-assisted suicide Senator Claire Ayer for bringing this issue back to the legislature, because this “revisit”  is an opportunity to repeal the whole thing, leaving Vermonters just as free to commit suicide as they were before its passage while removing the threats legalization presents to people made vulnerable by disability, age, and sickness.

A new movement for repeal is underway, with a Facebook page that we urge you to like.  Get your friends to do so too.  We can’t link to it, because of some malfunction of our program, but just search for Repeal Act 39 on Facebook.

Edit: Here’s the link https://www.facebook.com/RepealAct39

Several years ago, Patient Choices, the group that, with lots of money from Compassion and Choices and the support of Governor Peter Shumlin, later succeeded in getting assisted suicide made legal in Vermont, brought George Eighmey, veteran C&C activist and “support volunteer” at the bedsides of people committing assisted suicide, , to speak in Manchester, Vermont.  Many of us who oppose assisted suicide turned up to ask him questions; in fact there were many more of us than supporters of assisted suicide.

Beyond the difference in numbers of people who cared enough about the issue to turn out for the meeting, we remember that there was a huge problem with the venue.  It was completely inaccessible to people with disabilities.  We pointed this out to Dick Walters, the head of Patient Choices, and he told us he had been unaware of the problem. Now no one with a disability happened to show up that night, but the fact that Walters and the paid Patient Choices’ organizer had failed to check on accessibility and choose a different venue woke us up to what we believe to be one of the defining characteristics of assisted suicide proponents.

They are people of privilege, not just financially, as the studies claiming to refute the idea that people who seek assistance in suicide are vulnerable point out, but also of physical privilege.  They are people who were born healthy, have had the best of medical care all their lives, and have done everything possible to stay healthy; they are the people one sees in expensive gyms and at natural food stores.  They are almost all white.  They are people who take very good care of themselves and enjoy life’s expensive best: travel to exotic places, sports like skiing and rock climbing, good restaurants, the best continuing care retirement communities.  Some of these people have certainly taken care of others, but we know from the profiles the Oregon and Washington reports give us and from the stories provided by Compassion and Choices itself __Brittany Maynard’s story is a very good example__ that they have taken extremely good care of themselves.

When a person with Brittany Maynard’s profile is confronted with disability, he or she thinks of ugliness, lack of ability to enjoy life, and inability to take care of personal needs.  We are not guessing or judging what they think.  These people tell us themselves.  Brittany Maynard described her suffering to a reporter as having gained 25 pounds.  The commercials she made for assisted suicide showed her trying to cram as much travel as possible into her final months.  She also repeatedly told reporters she would commit suicide before she was disabled by a stroke or seizures, before she became blind, before others had to take care of her.  Other assisted suicide patients say the same things; of the reasons they give Oregon and Washington doctors for choosing to die, loss of autonomy and loss of the ability to enjoy previously enjoyable activities are at the top of the list.

These are privileged people not willing to give up their privileges, and the record shows that they have very little empathy with those whose privilege is less.  They express a utilitarian willingness to sacrifice the less privileged for some idea of the common good as they, the privileged, define it.  C&C’s spokesperson, Barbara Coombs Lee, wrote an article defending the Oregon Health Plan’s (Oregon Medicaid’s) denial of care to two patients in a letter offering coverage of the much cheaper alternative of assisted suicide.

In NJ, where assisted suicide has been passed in the full Assembly and voted out of a Senate committee, and could now be brought without notice before the full Senate for debate and a vote, the hearings that took place before the Senate committee are a case in point.  First there was a hearing that completely excluded testimony from people with disabilities opposed to the bill.  After protests, there was a second hearing which drew hundreds of people, including people who traveled in wheelchairs.   If they didn’t seem so isolated from and oblivious to the world around them, one would think the senators had purposely tried to make it impossible for people with disabilities to testify at all.

Here, in italics, is the perspective of a person with disabilities who was at that second hearing.  We took it, with permission, from Meghan Schrader’s blog: https://diaryofanangrysped.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/privilege-in-the-hearing-for-s382/ . It should be a wake up call to a lot of us.

Please, as you read it, remember that people who are old and people who are very sick are also people with disabilities.  All of us will be people with disabilities sooner or later, that is, unless society makes a decision that it is better to be dead than disabled.  We don’t want to go there.  We ask the legislatures in the four states that currently have assisted suicide legislation pending: please don’t take us there.  We ask legislators in Vermont: please repeal this terrible law.

Privilege in The Hearing for S382

To put it simply, the term privilege refers to advantages that someone has or doesn’t have by virtue of his or her identity as a member of a culturally dominant or disenfranchised group; and to the effect that those advantages or disadvantages have on each group’s access to political power. These advantages and disadvantages exist regardless of individual awareness or intent. In political terms, this reality means that while all citizens ostensibly have autonomy, the execution of independence is interrelated with how society conducts its affairs.

During yesterday’s hearing, I witnessed the mechanisms of ablebodied privilege in action. First of all, the hearing on S382 started after a lunch break, much latter than the time that was cited on the Senate’s website. This meant that several people whose disabilities cause fatigue or necessitate a consistent meal schedule had to leave the hearing prior to testifying. The latter sin of omission reflects the cultural invisibility of disabled people. During this hearing, senators did not consider the presence of people whose bodies required a greater amount of rest, food, and restroom access than that which was available to those who waited until the end of the hearing. Hence, disabled people were constrained by the format of the hearing; which favored ablebodied individuals who did not have the same needs. These could have been easily rectified by allowing people with such disabilities to testify earlier in the hearing.

Dawn Theresa Parkot, who uses an assisted communication device, had to have her testimony read by her father, because the machine’s battery ran out of power before she was called to speak. This restricted her choices regarding how she would communicate. None of these things were issues that ablebodied attendees had to confront. By failing to anticipate this problem, senators gave the latter a systemic advantage over the disabled.

While some may answer that this is a just effect of randomly ordered testimony, this set up functions to constrain the participation of disabled people. Ablebodied people who waited long hours before testifying did not have that opportunity removed by structural barriers to their participation. In contrast, disabled people whose physical disabilities precluded such delays made their decisions to leave in the context of an interdependent relationship with how such proceedings are structured. Disabled individuals had the autonomous choice to testify, but that autonomy was constrained by the mechanisms of ablebodied dominance.

Moreover, such systemic conditions provide fodder for our opposition’s arguments: “oh that poor girl with cerebral palsy; she couldn’t even testify independently. She should have the right to decide whether she wants to live like that. Or, even her father: after all, he is her only voice.” Well, if Senators had had the insight to provide her with an appropriate time slot, she could have testified independently. It senators’ lack of incorporation of her existence into their worlds that prevented her from doing that; yet these are the same people who would be entrusted with regulating assisted suicide. We are expected to proceed with the naive assumption that they will do that, even as they fail to address far more basic problems.

During the hearing, a senator said that that accusations of malicious intent were inaccurate; that everyone supporting the bill had good intentions. Not only does such reassurance privilege the perspectives if those individuals, it misrepresents our argument: It doesn’t matter that senators wouldn’t pressure a disabled person to commit suicide. The pressure we face is systemic. Every time leaders maintain inaccessible buildings, leave disability out of discussions about diversity and ignore the disability community’s perspectives on pivotal issues, they participate in that system, whether they mean to or not.

In short, Senators and staff did not recognize and manage the need for acommodations relating to these basic inequalities. If lawmakers do not anticipate these rudimentary issues, than how can they be expected to guard against ableist discrimination in the practice of assisted suicide?

 

 

A December 10, 2014 posting by True Dignity guest author W. Carol Cleigh showed how the practice of assisted suicide has expanded over the sixteen years since it was legalized in Oregon (http://www.truedignityvt.org/whats-going-oregon/).

The French journal LePoint recently interviewed Etienne Montero, dean of the law school at Belgium’s University of Namur and author of Rendezvous with Death: Ten Years of Legal Euthanasia in Belgium.  He spoke about the expansion of euthanasia in that country, both in numbers of people dying, and in the relaxation of the regulations in the law.

Here in Vermont, where five prescriptions have been written in the twenty months since legalization, but there has not been a single confirmed death, some may be tempted to believe that, since the law has not been used, it is not dangerous and doesn’t need revisiting. The Oregon experience and the Belgian experience should tell us something else, which is well summed up by Montero: Supply creates demand.

Reason tells us that legal doctor-assisted death starts out slowly but then grows and spreads. The facts in Belgium prove this out, just as do the facts in Oregon, if one looks below the hype.

We need to repeal the Vermont law before this can happen. Legislators in other states need to think carefully, examine the evidence, and reject attempts to use the Brittany Maynard death to sell them on the idea of legalizing assisted suicide.

Here’s the article, which can be read in French at http://www.lepoint.fr/societe/euthanasie-l-offre-cree-la-demande-15-01-2015-1896667_23.php.

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Frank Van Den Bleeken, held for life for rape and murder, should have been euthanized on January 11. Judged not responsible for his actions, he demanded to die because of “unbearable” psychological suffering, according to the words of his lawyer, Jos Vander Velpen. A demand accepted by the Belgian ministry of Justice last September.

Because his doctor did an about face at the last moment, because the government has finally accepted his transfer into a psychiatric center, a transfer that he had been requesting in vain for years, this death has not in the end taken place. It was a close call. And, for the first time in this country that all Europe observes because it is the only one, with the Netherlands, to have legalized euthanasia in 2002, Belgian public opinion is questioning itself about a law of which the conditions of application have not ceased to be relaxed.

Interview with Etienne Montero, dean of the faculty of law at Namur:

Le Point: For the first time, the law authorizing euthanasia, in Belgium, is being criticized. One speaks, with the Ven Den Bleeken case, of “the death penalty” the other way round…

Etienne Montero: The death of Frank Van Den Bleeken did not take place, but in its wake, 15 other prisoners have already formulated a demand for lethal injection. And people have forgotten it, but in September 2012 a 48 year old psychiatric prisoner was well and truly euthanized…Our country has been condemned 14 times by the European Court of Human Rights because we maintain in prison, under conditions that do not correspond to their state, some people with psychiatric illnesses judged not responsible for their actions. They need treatment, they are accepted for euthanasia, and these limited cases reveal how the barriers imposed in 2002 have been jumped over one after the other.

The number of Euthanasias has grown?

In an exponential manner, yes. In a dozen years, it has passed from 199 to 1,454 deaths a year. And I am speaking only of the cases reported by the doctors to the commission of control, because the public powers admit that there is no way of knowing the number of euthanasias really practiced, without doubt much larger. Moreover, in November 2014, euthanasia was legally opened to minors, and this whatever their age.

How is the legality of legal injections checked?

By a commission that goes through the reports transmitted by the doctors. But it acts as a check afterwards, that is to say at a time when the people have already died, and the commission has at its disposition only the information which the doctor who did the injection wants to communicate. All is therefore biased. Moreover, in a dozen years, no dossier has been sent on to the legal authority (justice)…

One doctor, even a general doctor, can he decide by himself to accede to the demand of the patient?

It can be the family doctor, yes, but the law obliges him to ask for a second opinion. The problem is that, in order to facilitate the procedure, a network of doctors has been put in place__(Here he gives the initials or names of some networks that the translator could not identify or find online). It’s about doctors formed to practice euthanasia and to whom most times the appeal for a second opinion is made. Or there are some doctors won over to the cause of euthanasia, often members of ADMD_Association for the right to die with dignity. There again, the ethical check is biased.

You have studied attentively the reports rendered by the commission of control for a dozen years. What have you concluded about them?

The law says that, to gain access to euthanasia, it is necessary to be in a state of a grave and incurable pathology, and of unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved. But these two conditions are no longer interpreted today as they were in 2002. Today, for example, the commission admits cases of multiple pathologies. They are often of aged people who suffer, for example, from declining eyesight, from arthritis, from deafness, from renal insufficiency… Some of these pathologies, certainly incurable, are not grave, but it is accepted today that the collection of these pathologies due to old age justifies the demand and the cases of euthanasia of persons suffering only from the consequences of great age, if they are multiple.

And “unbearable suffering”, is it not also a criterion required to be evaluated?

One speaks especially of physical but also of psychological suffering. And there also, the interpretation of the law has evolved. In 2002, there was no question of euthanasia of the depressed, of the demented, of psychotics. Today, people among these (groups) are euthanized every year. Now, when euthanasia intrudes into psychiatry, it is disturbing, because psychiatry consists precisely in bringing back the élan of patients who have lost it.

It is not then indispensable, in order to gain access to euthanasia, to be well and truly at the end of life?

Not at all. More and more people are demanding death, and they are obtaining it, even when their death is not at all expected in a short time. By the way there has appeared now the astonishing notion of preventive euthanasia. It is applied to patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s who, still lucid, ask for the lethal injection before the advanced symptoms of the malady are manifest. It was applied to the case of the Verbessen brothers, deaf twins who had been diagnosed with glaucoma, who would have become blind over a long period, and who decided to be euthanized in 2012…One asks, and one obtains death not because one suffers, but because one is afraid of the idea of suffering…Countries who are considering a possible legalization ought to understand that supply creates demand. When euthanasia was authorized a dozen years ago in Belgium, it was presented as an ethical transgression, an exception reserved for extreme situations. A dozen years later, its field of application has been considerably extended.

Here is is: the latest assisted suicide bill in Connecticut.  Yesterday one was introduced in CA.

To all, get ready to fight, with civility, reason, and facts.

http://www.cga.ct.gov/2015/TOB/S/2015SB-00668-R00-SB.htm

As the UK Parliament continues to debate legalizing assisted suicide, here’s a good article reminding us of what it seems should be obvious to everyone. Assisted suicide is not a private matter.  It affects a whole society in ways that should, but no longer do, appall everyone.

Suicide itself is known to be contagious.  When the social stigma surrounding it is eliminated by laws setting up a legal process of assistance for it, its extension becomes inevitable, including its extension to those whose care society finds too emotionally and financially expensive to be willing to sustain.

By the way, we at True Dignity think this not only should be, but actually is, obvious even to the proponents.   Barbara Coombs Lee is no longer ashamed to say that people with dementia should be eligible for euthanasia; we use the word because a person with dementia would not be capable of committing assisted suicide.  Coombs Lee also defends the denial of state insurance coverage of treatments patients and their doctors believe would help them.  In Belgium and the Netherlands, depression or situational unhappiness, such as that of the person euthanized because of dissatisfaction with a sex change operation, or just being “tired of life” are considered “unbearable and irremediable” suffering that qualifies one for euthanasia.

What these people really want is suicide or euthanasia on demand, without many questions; the few questions asked would be to protect the doctor, not the patient.  They want to eliminate people in the name of freedom, when they know as well as we do that people will die who could have been helped to live.  Again, they think help is too expensive, socially, emotionally, and financially.  Eliminating those who need care is just so easy, so logical, so cheap, cheap, cheap.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/michael-wenham/assisted-suicide_b_6479846.html

The NJ Senate could vote on the assisted suicide bill already passed by that state’s Assembly as early as January 13, 2015. We urge people__especially people from NJ, but anyone from any state who believes the spread of assisted suicide is dangerous public policy and a risk to everyone, everywhere__to contact each Senator, politely asking that he or she vote against S.382. Here, once again, is the contact information: http://noassistedsuicidenj.org/images/NJ%20Legislators.pdf.

Be brief. Be polite. Be reasonable. If you are from out of state, say you are calling because what the NJ legislature does will influence what other state legislatures do.  Give your reasons for opposing the legalization of assisted suicide.

Since our beginnings in January 2011, True Dignity Vermont has had a policy of not posting arguments against assisted suicide based on religious belief, refusing to give Compassion and Choices and its various state clones any excuses for the argument they bring up when they have no reasonable or evidence based argument to make: that opposition to assisted suicide is solely an attempt by the Christian right to impose its sectarian beliefs on others.

Some religious people do indeed make statements that we understand non-religious people would find offensive and that would certainly not move them, but others make reasonable arguments that we are getting tired of ignoring just because of their sources. We believe all reasonable voices are worthy of consideration.

It is in that spirit that we are linking to an article by Richard Doerflinger, who works as Associate Director of the Pro-Life Secretariat of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and is Public Policy Fellow of the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame.

We post this article simply because it is the best concise summary of the arguments and evidence against assisted suicide we have seen recently. It can be very helpful as citizens decide what to say when they call the NJ Senators. Most of us have heard all of this before, but the article brings it together and also adds the, new to us, information that 50% of the people who used Oregon’s assisted suicide law last year were dependent on some kind of government provided insurance or had no insurance. 75% of those using the Washington law were similarly situated. Since the debate over Obamacare began in 2009 and 2010, we have heard nothing but calls for cost-cutting in these government insurance programs. In this social and economic context, how can anyone feel safe from the consequences of legal assisted suicide?

Doerflinger writes of the states that have passed assisted suicide bills: “By passing the bill, the government has selected a class of citizens it thinks are more in need of suicide assistance than suicide prevention. How enthusiastic will it be about paying for continued care for those holdouts who refuse this aid?”  The answer to this question seems obvious to those of us at True Dignity. It is not enthusiastic now. It will be less so when assisted suicide is available everywhere.

Here’s the link: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/01/14217/

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