Kills Assisted Suicide Legislation
By Mary Hahn Beerworth
Years of work to prevent
passage of a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in Vermont
came to a definitive conclusion on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 as the House
of Representatives voted to defeat H.44, An Act Relating to Patient Choice
and Control at End of Life, by a vote of 63 – 82.
It was a victory of historic
proportions. Here’s why:
Vermont pro-lifers and others
have successfully resisted the push toward euthanasia in our state for
decades. In fact, since the first so-called Death With Dignity bill was
introduced in Vermont in 1976, a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide
has not been enacted into law despite numerous attempts.
The organization supporting
assisted suicide has changed its name too many times to count – from the
Society to Death With Dignity to End of Life Choices
– even the bill was renamed this year as "Patient Choice and Control at
End of Life,"- all without making any essential change in the original
language. It is still physician-assisted suicide no matter how they try
to hide their real agenda. But, despite their calculated cleverness over
the years, the suicide proponents always came up empty handed at the end
of each legislative session.
However, for the past five
years, national euthanasia organizations have focused their deadly designs
like a laser beam on this small state.
The drive to legalize physician-assisted
suicide has suffered defeat after defeat in state after state throughout
the 10 years since Oregon became the only state to legalize the deadly
practice. So, why did the pro-suicide forces look to Vermont for a desperately
needed win in order to revive their failed propositions? Consider the following:
All told, euthanasia proponents
were rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of what appeared to be
a sure win in Vermont. Proponents of suicide hired nine lobbyists, ran
television commercials for months featuring two former Governors, a former
Lt. Governor, and a former Congressman. They promoted the results of their
biased public opinion polls, claiming 82% of Vermonters favored the legislation
and they enjoyed the advantage of a House of Representatives made-up of
93 Democrats, 49 Republicans, 6 Progressives and 2 Independents.
Vermont is well-known as a breeding
ground for radical ideas.
Vermont is such a small state
that it is easy and inexpensive to co-opt public opinion - as long as national
organizations are willing to pour large amounts of money into surveys containing
misleading questions with skewed results, to buy television advertising
on Vermont’s two major news outlets, to hire pricey lobbying firms and
to capitalize on a media market favorable to their views.
Vermonters in the last election
handed those who favor suicide exactly what Kevorkian and his ilk could
only dream of a few years ago – a state legislature tipped heavily into
their column by the anti-war, anti-incumbent sentiment raging through the
entire country last fall.
A win in this small state would
lay the groundwork for the big win - the state of California.
But over the years, a growing
coalition of local opposition had been forming to warn of the dangers of
passing physician-assisted suicide legislation. The Vermont Alliance for
Ethical Healthcare, under the guidance of Dr. Robert Orr, worked to expose
the abuses of the law in Oregon. VAEH developed a radio and television
advertising campaign raising unanswered and troubling questions about what
effect this kind of a sea change in public policy would mean for our state.
At the same time, leading disability rights groups such as the Vermont
Center for Independent Living and the Vermont Coalition for Disability
Rights weighed in against the bill, joined by the Vermont Medical Society
and the Vermont State Nurses Association.
Still, most predicted easy
passage in the Vermont House and prospects for the Senate looked equally
unstoppable. While Governor James Douglas had repeatedly stated that he
did not support the concept of assisted suicide, it would have taken 51
votes in the Vermont House to sustain a veto. Just three weeks before the
vote, pro-life lobbyists could not count on 51 legislators to oppose the
By March 16th,
the bill had been reviewed by two legislative committees and both ignored
the serious concerns raised by expert testimony as to the ramifications
of such a law. H. 44 headed to the floor for a vote the following week.
But defeat was unthinkable.
So, pro-life Vermonters redoubled their efforts and continued to pray.
Vermont Right to Life mobilized its extensive network of bipartisan, non-denominational
supporters by mailing nearly 5,000 postcards to pro-life citizens in key
legislative districts and generating over 9,000 pre-recorded phone messages
the weekend before the vote urging members to contact their legislators.
The response was immediate and widespread!
In addition, Vermont clergy
took the lead from the pulpit and encouraged the faithful to action. Also
worth noting is the fact that the Burlington Free Press editorial board
published three separate columns in opposition to H.44!
But, the single, most important
contributing factor to the change of heart among the members of the House
of Representatives was the number of calls, letters and emails they received
in opposition to the bill. It was amazing to witness the outpouring of
constituent phone calls and the effect it had on the legislative body as
a whole – some legislators reported that their calls were running 4 to
1 in opposition while some members of the House reported that their constituent
contacts were running as high as 10 to 1 against H.44.
The four-hour floor debate
leading up to the vote publicly exposed the flaws in H.44 and proponents
of assisted suicide failed to persuade most lawmakers that the bill had
enough safeguards to protect vulnerable people from abuse. Eloquent and
passionate testimonies from Rep. Peg Flory of Pittsford, Rep. Anne Donahue
of Northfield, Rep. Mary Morrissey of Bennington and Rep. Patricia O’Donnell
of Vernon and others persuaded additional legislators to vote "no" at the
end of the day.
For their money, the advocates
of legalized physician-assisted suicide have a string of losses across
the country that now includes Vermont. Maybe the resounding defeat of assisted
suicide will send a long over due signal to out-of-state interests that
Vermont is not for sale. And maybe now the Vermont Legislature will find
the time to promote excellent end of life care that includes the latest
in pain relief technology, palliative care and hospice services.
For more information about
the dangers of physician-assisted suicide:
Vermont Right to Life Committee
Vermont Center for Independent Living
Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare
Mary Hahn Beerworth
Executive Director, Vermont
Right to Life Committee
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