Doctor-Prescribed Suicide Law Is “Fatally Flawed” Vermont Organizations Call for Repeal

Vermont Right to Life will join with the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and True Dignity Vermont in calling for the repeal of Act 39, the law that has legalized doctor-prescribed suicide.  Here are some of the reasons why Act 39 must be repealed and how it could be accomplished.

Legislation to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide struggled for passage in both the House and Senate throughout the 2013 session despite the super-majority of left-leaning legislators who currently serve. It was only after 19 roll call votes and backroom deal-making by powerful political leaders in the final hours of the session that the legislation narrowly passed in both the House and Senate.  No other legislation came as close to defeat the entire year due largely to pro-lifers who called, emailed and came to the State House to express their opposition.  In the end, we fell short of defeating the bill by just two votes in the Senate out of 30 members, and a mere 6 votes in the House out of 140 in attendance.   If a handful of seats are changed in the 2014 elections, there could be an opportunity to successfully repeal the law.

Because the final draft of the law was hastily crafted, important components were stripped out that would have shielded health care providers and facilities from legal ramifications and a number of other components that are contained in both the Oregon and Washington doctor-prescribed suicide laws.

Deficiencies in the law include:

1)      No government agency was assigned to oversee the law and supervise implementation.

2)      Vermont residency is not clearly defined under the law which means that it is basically up to the doctor to determine who is eligible – so Vermont could well become the Sweden of the East Coast (Sweden allows anyone to come to their country solely to access the drugs and commit suicide.)

3)      Doctors are not required to use the form developed by the VT Department of Health for reporting information about prescriptions or anything else so there is no uniformity of data gathering.

4)      For disposal of unused lethal doses, the FDA guidelines are referenced which advocate flushing the drugs into the sewage systems and potentially getting into groundwater.  One can only hope that the drugs are not used by a family member experiencing depression or contemplating suicide.

5)      Participation by doctors is supposed to be voluntary but also require the physician to make a referral and ensure that the patient is getting information about the option of a lethal dose.  So, even if your physician is opposed to doctor-prescribed suicide he has to participate to a large degree – and the patient loses their primary doctor just as he or she is coping with a terminal illness.

6)      Provisions meant to protect pharmacists from liability should something go wrong were stripped out of the final legislation in the mad rush to passage.  Physicians who write prescriptions are provided immunity, but pharmacists are not – and the drugs fail in at least 20% of all those who take the lethal dose.

7)      All the resources listed on the Department of Health website are those that promote doctor-prescribed suicide, so patients never hear any of the negative information or important facts about using a lethal dose to end their lives.

As this edition of the REVIEW goes to print, not a single Vermonter has ended his or her own life under Act 39.

Representative Duncan Kilmartin, a legislator from Newport, Vermont and an attorney summed the situation up this way at a recent forum on Act 39, “This law was so poorly written that no physician should ever write a prescription, no pharmacist should ever fill the prescription and no health care facility should ever engage in allowing such a practice on their premises.”

The Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare ran a series of television ads calling for repeal of Act 39 and criticizing the Legislature for playing politics with people’s lives.  You can view the ad at www.vaeh.org and click on the link for “New Video.”