Health Care

Opponents call for repeal of assisted suicide

Opponents of Vermont’s physician-assisted suicide law are calling on legislators and the governor to place a moratorium on the prescription of life-ending drugs.

Edward Mahoney, president of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Health Care, said at a news conference Thursday that the law is poorly crafted and its supporters have not fully considered the ramifications of the law.

He raised several concerns about its implementation, including the lack of immunity for clinicians and pharmacists and the requirement that physicians notify terminally ill patients of the assisted-suicide option – whether or not the physician thinks it’s an ethical or a good care practice.

Mahoney and other opponents said the bill doesn’t have proper patient protections to ensure that people with disabilities or diminished capacity are not coerced into ending their lives, or to safeguard against the diversion of the drugs.

Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, who helped shepherd the bill into law last session, said the opponents’ concerns are a rehash of the points they raised before.

“I don’t hear anything new,” she said. “I think that we’ve settled these issues.”

In the eight months the law has been on the books, two Vermonters have filled prescriptions for terminal drugs, Ayer said, neither ended up using them to end their life.

Mahoney said his group’s concerns were not related to events that had transpired, but rather the potential for harm if the law remains in place.

Senate President John Campbell, D-Windsor, who voted against assisted suicide, said he did not think a moratorium was the answer.

“I think if changes need to be made, they should be made legislatively,” Campbell said.

Campbell said his opposition to assisted suicide stems from the way it alters the doctor-patient relationship, and he would support the law’s repeal if it comes up.

That won’t be until at least next session at least, because a bill can’t be repealed in the same biennium in which its passed.

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  • sandra bettis

    if you don’t want to take a pill, don’t take it. if you don’t want to have an abortion, don’t have one. are these the same people ranting about the ‘freedom’ to own an assault weapon???

    • Stephanie Nolan

      This conversation is about the fact the law is a sloppy train-wreck. It was wedged into enactment by out of state forces who were in a desperate rush to beat legislative deadlines, from what I understand. More desperation was heaped on them because of the vast amounts of money that had already been spent in Vermont during previous years only to come up losing! This is not a discussion about guns. Be rational. Can you answer the questions that are being raised? Where do the lethal doses go when they aren’t used? Does the law require immunity for health care facilities? Does a person who is killing him/herself have be a state of capacity? These are pertinent questions. Not questions about assault weapons.

      • rosemarie jackowski

        Yes, also the most important question is how can the sick/disabled/elderly who are dependent on others for care be protected from coercion. There is NO way they can be, unless we assign someone to them 24/7.

        Remember, there were more than 300 cases of abuse of the disabled reported to the state. The reports were ignored. Abuse continues. Visit any nursing home and see the isolated, neglected people there.

  • Todd Spayth

    Regardless of the legal issues, what safe guards are in place for unused “death meds”? This is just a wee bit more serious than a few left over Vicoden’s in someone’s medicine cabinet.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Even if no one ever actually takes the pills, there is a whole other issue here – that is the devaluing of the lives of a class of people – the sick, disabled, elderly.

    In addition, there is no way that abuse and coercion can be prevented. It is not like we are dealing with young, healthy citizens who would not be so easy to coerce. But that is not the class of citizens harmed by this law.

    We need more compassion and better pain management. Doctors that I have discussed this with tell me that it is very rare when pain cannot be managed successfully.

    • Bob Orleck

      Quote: “Doctors that I have discussed this with tell me that it is very rare when pain cannot be managed successfully.” Thanks Rosemarie: I am a pharmacist and from that perspective and the many years of practice I can tell you that what you hear from doctors is true.

      If President Obama can put a moratorium on so many parts of the so called “Obamacare” law he signed without Congress’s say, why can’t the Governor put a moratorium on the “physician assisted suicide” law he signed last session without it first being repealed by the legislature especially if he had an understanding with the legislative leaders such as Shap Smith?

      So many experts have looked at this law now and know there are deficiencies in it that require it to be repealed. Hospitals have refused to allow it. Pharmacists and healthcare professionals other than the prescribing physician who participate in the law are in danger of civil actions, criminal charges or professional misconduct claims. Lots of losers with this law and no winners!
      I am told that you cannot repeal a law that was passed in the same biennium. Doesn’t make sense to me that vulnerable people have to wait on a technicality in order to be protected!

      If Governor Shumlin really cared about the people who are endangered by this law, those depressed when taking the lethal dose, those who will have undue influence put on them to end their life, those that will suffer horrific side effects before and even if they actually die from the dosing and those who have relied on faulty medical prognosis to end their life, he would act accordingly to protect these citizens.

      I doubt if Governor Shumlin and legislative leaders will step up to the plate and put a moratorium on its application. If they do not and when all the things the opponents of the law have shown have played out, it will be these leaders who will have to pay the price for their inhumane thinking. I hope that no one dies as a result of their selfish and careless work.

      I do hope that it will result in their undoing as politicians. For this and many other reasons, including all the botched programs they promote, the prime example being the state’s health care fiasco, they need to be voted out.

      Thanks for your service! Go home!

    • Kathy Leonard

      If it happens to be your “rare” pain that is uncontrollable, this argument falls flat. Some people are forced to starve themselves – not as quick as they would hope – in order to escape intractable pain. Or consider a messy suicide that would bring a permanent, untreatable pain upon the families who discover them. We should not simply dismiss those who choose a legal death with dignity.

  • sandra bettis

    it amazes me when people want to judge quality of life for another – if you want to live like a vegetable, i guess that is your right – however, it is my right not to live in pain – i get to decide that – not you.

    • Bob Orleck

      Sandra: So you really must be opposed to the government making you jump through hoops before you can do what you want to do. To do what you want to do why you need what the government has set up here. This kind of interference by government creates the greater likelihood of what I pointed to and does something that I am sure you do not want. Allows those set on getting rid of Aunt Mamie to do so without any scrutiny from the law. There seems to be a presumption that it is all OK. No investigation, no reporting, no nothing but a dead body. One less person to feed and spend money on for health care and the like! Oh well some might say. She lived a long and good life. Time for someone else to have a turn! Too many people in the world as it is! Population control at the expense of the vulnerable and weak! Is that the kind of world you want? That is the kind of world you are going to have if you’re not careful.

  • David Dempsey

    Last year I checked the statistics from two states where this was legal, Washington and Oregon. Based on their statistics, I figured that vermont would have around 10 people per year who would get the medicine and around 4 that would take it. So far my estimates, as low as they were, were overstated. In my opinion the legislature wasted a lot of time on this legislation. The proponants of this bill were predominatly upper class people who spent a lot of money to get the bill passed. There are far more important issues that affect a lot more Vermonters that need to be addressed by the legislature. As usual, money talks.

  • Mary Beerworth

    Good article. Act 39 needs to be repealed. The whole debate was driven by out-of-state special interests groups with a euthanasia agenda – and after chopping the original legislation to pieces in the final hours of the 2013 session, the legislature, by only a handful of votes, passed such legal “hash” that all involved should be embarrassed……

  • Stephanie Nolan

    The chairwoman is quite dismissive when she says she hears nothing new. Why does there have to be anything new, Chairwoman Ayers? The very same alarm bells are ringing and blaring since you first turned a deaf ear. Access to self-administered death doesn’t appear to be flying off the shelf yet, so why not stop in your tracks, apply wisdom, and turn back, while there is still time? It’s never too late to listen.
    And where are the unused prescriptions at this time? Saved in a drawer for another family member who might like to use them? What a mess!