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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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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.

SB. 128, the CA assisted suicide bill that appeared to have died last week, as been resurrected in the CA Senate.  The debate and a possible vote will take place tomorrow.  True Dignity urges everyone to contact the following legislators:

[email protected]'; ‘[email protected]'; ‘[email protected]'; ‘[email protected]'; ‘[email protected]'; ‘[email protected]'; ‘[email protected]’.

[email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected][email protected]'; ‘[email protected]'; ‘[email protected]'; ‘[email protected]'; ‘[email protected]'; ‘[email protected]'; ‘[email protected]

If you are not a Californian be upfront about that.  Say that your own state and you as an individual will be impacted by the passage of this bill in any other state.  Ask the senators to vote against SB 128, because no number of safeguards can prevent error or abuse, which in the case of death are irremediable and in the case of purposely caused death are inexcusable.  Assisted suicide is terrible public policy.

Keep it short and simple.  Do not write about religion, because the proponents of assisted suicide are very skillful at pretending that opposition is only from religious people trying to impose their  views on everyone.  You can choose to make one of the following points:

1. This bill, which is based on the premise that suicide is an OK solution to some problems,  will likely result, through the phenomenon of suicide contagion, in an increase in the rate of non-assisted suicide.  In Oregon, the general suicide rate, which had been going down throughout the nineties, began to rise right after legalization of assisted suicide and has continued to rise.  According to some reports, Oregon has the second highest non-assisted suicide rate in the country.

2. This bill is a recipe for elder abuse.  Even if it required witnesses at the time of ingestion of the drugs, which it does not, that would not prevent pressure from relatives and caregivers.

3. This bill is really about horror of disability and threatens people with disability.  Very few Oregonians get drugs to commit suicide because they fear pain.  Instead they cite loss of autonomy, loss of the ability to do enjoyable things, and being a burden to their families.  Doctors often share the attitude that life is not worth living if a person cannot take care of himself, and they communicate it to their disabled patients by offering comfort care when lifesaving care is appropriate.  The very offer of comfort care rather than treatment is pressure.  “Futility” and “potentially inappropriate treatment” are increasingly being used to justify the denial of care a patient and his surrogate want.  Cost saving is the mantra in health care and every other part of the economy.  Introducing assisted suicide into this poisonous environment is insanity.  It will not only threaten the morale of people with disabilities but the services they need simply to survive.

4.  This bill discriminates against the poor.  The rich can get the best medical care, regardless of cost.  In Oregon, the poor have already been steered to assisted suicide by having their wanted and prescribed treatment denied by Medicaid.  Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup received letters denying coverage for their chemotherapy and offering coverage for assisted suicide among the alternatives.  We hear that Oregon no longer sends those letters, but it still denies coverage for treatment and offers coverage for assisted suicide.  The poor are still being steered towards suicide.

5. This bill will result in the death of people whose prognoses are incorrect, who will reject treatment, or for whom a cure might have been discovered.  Jeanette Hall is alive and well more than a decade after being given a terminal diagnosis and after asking her doctor to help her use the Oregon assisted suicide law.  Fortunately he persuaded her to accept treatment instead.

6.  This bill will offer people with treatable depression, the most common cause of suicide, help with suicide rather than suicide prevention.  Studies show that depression in terminally ill people can be successfully treated.

SB 128 is probably going to the Senate floor only because proponents think they have the votes.  The other side is certainly flooding Senators mailboxes with calls for the bills passage.  We need to do the same thing in opposition.  Please do this.  You can make a difference.

 

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