A year ago the Vermont legislature passed a law almost identical to that in operation in Oregon allowing for assisted suicide. Curiously, however, the Vermont law has a sunset clause on the operational guidelines that will expire after three years leaving assisting suicide in that state without even the pretence of legal oversight.
This report from True Dignity Vermont points to some of the problems with this type of regimen:
A year ago today, at the bill signing party for Act 39 held in the Governor’s ceremonial office, True Dignity Vermont launched a hotline and email address for individuals who suspect that a patient was being unduly influenced to request or ingest lethal drugs, or were being given such drugs against their will.
“We expanded our educational role to become a place where our network of health care providers and other supporters would have a place to take their concerns,” stated True Dignity spokesperson, Carolyn McMurray of Bennington. “The most alarming reports we have received to date involve two separate clinical psychologists, dealing with two different patients, both of whom had suicidal tendencies. In each case, the patients revealed their belief that suicide was more ‘acceptable’ now that the legislature had passed this law.”
Shortly after Act 39 went into effect, True Dignity Vermont received a call from a woman convinced that a health care facility was intentionally withholding treatment from her elderly mother. TDVT recommended that she contact the appropriate experts for further investigation.
Nearly six weeks ago, True Dignity Vermont received a call from an 85 year-old Korean War veteran from New Jersey who wanted information about how he could come here and get a “shot” to end his life. During the conversation, he revealed that he was not terminally-ill, nor physically ill in anyway. He said he was depressed, and he said the suffering of depression was terrible. The man believed, with all his heart, that the new law meant that he could come to Vermont and a physician would end his life. True Dignity Representative told him we did not want him to commit suicide and talked to him for as long as he wanted to talk. He said it helped him a lot to talk. The representative told him to get professional help and invited him to call back to talk whenever he wished. He has not called back.
In addition, reports of confusion about Act 39 have reached True Dignity Vermont including; ambiguous legal language about what the law means, what is legal and what is not. Hospital ethics boards have spent hours of time trying to understand the law and fathom the confusing language. Lawyers for health care institutions have also found that the law is “unclear” and ambivalent, leading to dozens of unanswerable questions. Nearly all hospitals have “opted-out” of the law and most health care facilities have followed suit.
True Dignity Vermont board members attended a conference sponsored by the Vermont Ethics Network in October entitled “Vermont’s New Normal: End of Life Care and Physician Aid in Dying” where, even in a setting designed to promote the law, many of Act 39’s flaws were obvious to attendees and supporters.
True Dignity Vermont will continue to educate about the dangers of physician-assisted suicide and remind Vermonters to report any concerns.