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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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On August 12, 2015, a New Mexico appeals court overturned a lower court ruling legalizing assisted suicide and directing that it not considered suicide in that state.  Here is a link to this extremely good news:  http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/aug/11/new-mexico-court-of-appeals-strikes-down-right-to-/.

Even in the wake of all the publicity surrounding the Brittany Maynard case, state legislature after state legislature has declined to legalized assisted suicide after hearing the evidence of its dangers to patients’ freedom of choice.  According the the Patients Rights Council, 8 states killed assisted suicide bills outright, and 18 states have bills on which action is has been left hanging: http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/failed-attempts-usa/.

So Vermont remains on the lunatic fringe, along with Oregon and Washington.

Around one in five patients who choose euthanasia in the Netherlands acts under pressure from family members, according to a leading expert on the ethics of assisted dying, as reported last week in Dutch News: http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2015/07/pressure-on-patients-is-cause-for-concern-euthanasia-expert/

According to the report, Professor Theo Boer, who teaches ethics at Groningen’s Protestant Theological University and has for nine years served as a member of one of five review committees that assess every euthanasia case, said, “Sometimes it’s the family who go to the doctor. Other times it’s the patient saying they don’t want their family to suffer. And you hear anecdotally of families saying: ‘Mum, there’s always euthanasia.’”

Here in Vermont, where physician-assisted suicide has been legal for just two years, cases of pressure are already starting to emerge, and it isn’t always family members providing the pressure. True Dignity has spoken with the family of a 90-year-old Medicaid patient who felt pressured by caregivers in the facility where she was admitted for recovery from a fall. The patient did not have a terminal diagnosis.

According to Beth Neill, clinicians at the Berlin Health and Rehab Center informed her mother at regular intervals during her 4-month stay there that she had a “right” to use Act 39, and that, “She didn’t even have to discuss it with her family.” It was the act of repeatedly bringing up Act 39 as a health care “option” that caused her mother to feel pressure, and not overt efforts by clinicians to convince her to request the lethal prescription, Neill said. However, she said her mother made it clear she wanted nothing to do with Act 39 and was disturbed that staff re-introduced the topic repeatedly.

Neill notes that her mother was, and is, in otherwise surprisingly good health for her age, and would not have qualified for Act 39, as the extended stay in Berlin Health and Rehab was strictly for help recovering from her fall.

Neill was not made aware of the situation at Berlin Health and Rehab until after her mother had already been moved to assisted living at a Northfield facility, where she currently resides. When she did hear of it, “It blew my eyebrows off,” she said.

According to Neill, the staff at the Northfield facility informed her that her mother had reacted strongly when they began to discuss care options. “Mom thought they were going to start talking about Act 39, the way they did at Berlin (Health and Rehab), and she blew up at them. She said, ‘I don’t want anyone talking to me about killing myself.’”

That’s when it came out that the staff at Berlin Health and Rehab had talked to her more than once about her “right” to request a lethal prescription. “I recalled then that my mother had been very eager to get out of there, and I had noticed that she seemed frustrated and unhappy, but I didn’t know why,” Neill explained.

Her mother told her that the staff at the Berlin facility specifically stated that Act 39 “is the law,” and in her words, “They said she could ‘off’ herself any time she wanted to.” She told her physician, who adamantly opposes Act 39, “They want me to take a bunch of pills and kill myself.”

Clearly, confusion abounds regarding the duties of medical caregivers with respect to Act 39. Vermont’s “affirmative duty to inform” under the Patient Rights Act requires that health care providers let patients know of all available treatment options, but it is not clear how this is understood to apply to Act 39 . Beth Neill’s mother did not have a terminal diagnosis and would not have been eligible for a lethal prescription under Vermont’s law.  Asked why she was informed of this “treatment option” by health care workers at his facility, John O’Donnell, Executive Director of Berlin Health and Rehab, declined to reply.

True Dignity also was unable to get answers from Berlin Health and Rehab to explain where staff received training around the implementation of Act 39and what the facility’s official policy is on assisted suicide.

We can only speculate about where some information may be coming from. In a letter to members, the well-funded pro-assisted-suicide group Patient Choices Vermont, an arm of the national organization Compassion and Choices, says that the group Compassion and Choices Vermont has been doing “extensive work educating patients, medical providers and institutions, as well as assisting individuals” to find the “resources they need.” The letter also states, “While details are still being determined, PCV will have an important role to play as health department regulations are developed (and) insurance coverage issues are dealt with.”

We do not know whether or not this group had a hand in helping “educate” staff at the nursing home where Beth Neill’s mother felt pressured to use Act 39. At present, there is no oversight mandated by Act 39 to prevent abuse, and the only other organization we are aware of with resources and staff to educate health care providers about Act 39 is the Vermont Ethics Network, which also receives funding from Compassion and Choices.

States are prohibited from using Medicaid dollars to cover costs associated with physician assisted suicide, but it is unclear whether there are provisions in the State-sponsored Green Mountain Care Medicaid to pay for drugs and doctor visits for patients requesting Act 39.

Because Act 39 contains few safeguards and almost no reporting requirements, it seems that questions will be more abundant than answers for the foreseeable future.

Thanks to a strong family support system and a personal physician who is opposed to assisted suicide, Beth Neill’s mother was able to resist pressure to consider using Act 39. What is unknown is how many other vulnerable individuals are feeling pressure today from family or caregivers, and may eventually succumb, as physician assisted suicide becomes entrenched in Vermont and aggressively promoted by those who may operate from motives at odds with the best interests of the patient.

There has been a lot of good news this year (everywhere but Vermont, it seems) on the assisted suicide front. There has been widespread rejection of attempts to legalize doctor-prescribed death in multiple State legislatures, with California this week providing the most recent defeat.

Evidently the “momentum” claimed by Compassion and Choices (aka The Hemlock Society) after they were able to hoodwink some foolish Vermont legislators into passing Act 39 in 2013, and resisting attempts to repeal it in 2015, has come to a screeching halt.

The key reason? Legislators in the  places other than Vermont where assisted suicide bills were debated this year actually listened to common sense and reason. Once they got past the media hype of Brittany Maynard’s highly publicized death-by-prescription, and understood that legalizing doctor-assisted death would place vulnerable people at risk of pressure and coercion, legislators resoundingly rejected doctor assisted suicide.

In a statement released yesterday, the group Californians Against Assisted Suicide said, “What was seemingly inevitable just a month ago has seen increasing opposition due to a broad, bipartisan coalition that has worked tirelessly to inform California legislators about our policy concerns with assisted suicide.
‘Those of us advocating on behalf of disability rights organizations understand that choice is a myth in the context of our health care reality. End-of-life treatment options are already limited for millions of people—constrained by poverty, disability discrimination, and other obstacles. Adding this so-called ‘choice’ into our dysfunctional healthcare system will push people into cheaper lethal options. There is no assurance everyone will be able to choose treatment over suicide; no material assistance for families of limited means who are struggling to care for loved ones; no meaningful protection from abusive family members or caregivers.’

Coalition coordinator and Tim Rosales followed, ‘Throughout the country we have seen assisted suicide proposals begin with very high approval ratings only to go down to defeat. In 2012, the Massachusetts Ballot Question 2 voter initiative began with nearly 70% approval in many public opinion polls only to go down to defeat 51% to 49%. Already this year we have seen assisted suicide legislation fail in Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, New Hampshire, Maine, Delaware and Nevada. The more people learn about the issue, the more public opinion turns against it.’”

It is time for Vermont to rethink this very misguided law, and for Vermonters to vote out of office all those legislators who have championed such a shameful cause, before anyone else gets hurt.

 

It appears from news reports and press releases that the Assisted Suicide bill will not be presented to committee or to the floor.

In a statement, the authors of Senate Bill 128, which would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients, said they would not present it before the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday. It was the second time in two weeks that a vote was canceled, and potentially a last chance for the measure, which also had to pass the Assembly Judiciary Committee before a July 17 deadline.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article26660032.html#storylink=cpy

There are still a few days left in the term for bills to go through, so don’t be surprised if there is a last minute trick.  But it’s a hopeful sign that the authors of the assisted suicide bill are saying they won’t go forward.

Below is a statement from the opponents of Assisted suicide in California:

***Opposition Statement***
SB 128 – CA Assisted Suicide Authors Will Not Pursue Bill Further in 2015

Sacramento, CA – The No On SB 128/Californians Against Assisted Suicide coalition issued the following statement today from Marilyn Golden, No On SB 128 co-chair and Senior Policy Analyst for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund:

“What was seemingly inevitable just a month ago has seen increasing opposition due to a broad, bipartisan coalition that has worked tirelessly to inform California legislators about our policy concerns with assisted suicide.

“Those of us advocating on behalf of disability rights organizations understand that choice is a myth in the context of our health care reality. End-of-life treatment options are already limited for millions of people—constrained by poverty, disability discrimination, and other obstacles. Adding this so-called ‘choice’ into our dysfunctional healthcare system will push people into cheaper lethal options. There is no assurance everyone will be able to choose treatment over suicide; no material assistance for families of limited means who are struggling to care for loved ones; no meaningful protection from abusive family members or caregivers.”

Coalition coordinator and Tim Rosales followed, “Throughout the country we have seen assisted suicide proposals begin with very high approval ratings only to go down to defeat. In 2012, the Massachusetts Ballot Question 2 voter initiative began with nearly 70% approval in many public opinion polls only to go down to defeat 51% to 49%. Already this year we have seen assisted suicide legislation fail in Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, New Hampshire, Maine, Delaware and Nevada. The more people learn about the issue, the more public opinion turns against it.”

Background: Assisted suicide has only been passed in 3 states – Oregon (voter initiative), Washington (voter initiative) and Vermont (legislation). In 2015, assisted suicide legislation was defeated in states including Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, Maine, Delaware and Nevada. Similar legislation is currently stalled in New York and New Jersey. 

In the State Senate, SB 128 passed by a floor vote of 23-15. Democrat Senator Tony Mendoza voted in opposition with Sen. Ben Hueso (D) abstaining and Sen. Richard Pan (D) abstaining in both the Senate Health Committee and floor votes. All Repbulicans voted no. The bill has now been pulled from the Assembly Health Committee a second time due to broad opposition.

We can find absolutely no press coverage of this, but the legislative session ended yesterday with no assisted suicide bill’s having been adopted.  Another state declines to take the Brittany Maynard bait!

Here’s a link to the news, from Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.ca/2015/06/maine-senate-defeats-assisted-suicide.html

 

Here’s the Sacramento Bee story.  http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article23113641.html.

Can this be defeated in the CA Assembly?  If not, will Governor Jerry Brown veto it?

If this bill passes, California will be the second state, after Vermont, to legalize assisted suicide through legislative action.

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