On Feb. 18, I attended the VT Senate Health & Welfare Committee hearing regarding Act 39 (assisted suicide/aid in dying). The hearing was to address two topics: Is Act 39 working and do we let the safeguards sunset in 2016 as presently stated in Act 39?
Up front, I will say that I am in favor of Repealing Act 39. Over the years I have attended many committee and public hearings prior to the passage of Act 39 and have witnessed how people opposing assisted suicide were not treated with the same respect as those in favor. And this disrespect continued as Senator Claire Ayer, Chair of the H&W Committee, displayed conduct that was unprofessional, demeaning, disrespectful, and biased toward those speaking against Act 39. One area of great concern is how to adequately address if Act 39 is working when there is no data to substantiate the claims by Dr. Chen (State Commissioner of Health) and others that everything has gone smoothly and is working well.
Senator Anthony Pollina, a member of the H&W Committee, even stated that it was unusual reports were not asked for when passing the law, and he could not believe that no reports were required. How many do not die from ingestion? Are they hospitalized or comatose? Data from Netherlands shows that 18-20% do not die from ingestion. What is the complication rate, how many are referred for clinical depression (which is treatable)? Good ethics needs good data, and let’s be honest, there is no Act 39 data being kept in the State of Vermont.
Since Act 39 does not define “Vermont residency”, it is up to each physician to determine this. Stated over and over at the hearing, there is no oversight, no measurable or mandated data, no detailed re-porting, no point of responsibility. And even those in favor of Act 39 all agree that the “safeguards” should be kept and not allowed to sunset in 2016 as written in the law. The Vermont Director of Com-passion & Choices said that we should trust the legislative body. Is this the same body that is now dealing with trying to fix their bad law? Then Senator Ayer ended the hearing by saying that other changes in Act 39 needed to be dealt with, but not in this session as they wanted to “avoid troubling the waters,” and she wants to use time more wisely for such things as taxes and budget. Apparently time to protect the vulnerable, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the undervalued, the depressed is not time spent wisely in their estimation.