All Eyes on Vermont

Packed house for the public hearing, photo care of Patient Choices
Packed house for the public hearing, photo care of Patient Choices

The Vermont lawmakers are expected to hear more than seven hours of testimony about Death with Dignity this week. Hearings began yesterday morning with the the Senate Health and Welfare Committee members listening to testimony by supporters including former Governor Madeleine Kunin and Attorney General William Sorrell about why a Death with Dignity law should be enacted in the state.

Quoted in VT Digger, Attorney General Sorrell said, “I think the right to make an informed decision about the end of your life when you are terminally ill and you have all of your faculties about you, the option to be able to make that choice is a simple one; I think it’s a personal right. I think it’s a hugely private right. And there are people I respect who oppose people having this opportunity, and they are entitled to those opinions.”

Governor Kunin gave heartfelt testimony about her recent experience with her brother’s death which only reaffirmed her commitment to supporting Death with Dignity legislation, “We have to respect the wishes of the dying person.”

Later in the day Tuesday, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and Judiciary Committee held a joint public hearing to gather testimony from Vermonters. Between 200-300 people packed the largest room in the Statehouse, the House chamber, and around 80 people signed up to testify. The public hearing was strictly moderated to allow everyone a chance to speak.

Thanks to a live stream from Vermont Public Television, I was able to watch the public hearing live online. The Senate committees structured the testimony to alternate between opponents and proponents. Several board members of Patient Choices Vermont testified including Patient Choices Vermont president, Dick Walters:

When (this bill) is passed in Vermont, the whole continuum of end-of-life care will improve: better training of doctors … better palliative care, and physician-assisted dying as a final choice. That’s what happened in Oregon after the law passed, folks. And that’s what will happen in Vermont.

Others advocates spoke about their personal experiences which guided their decision to support the Death with Dignity bill. Judy Murphy of Bennington described sitting with one terminally ill friend. “She ended her life by starving herself,” she said, adding that it took eight days. “She should have had the choice of death with dignity.”

William Wilson of Underhill summed it up very plainly for lawmakers: “The bill simply offers end-of-life choice. Its presence alone is comforting.”

Hearings continued today with testimony provided by Oregonians who’ve had direct experience with Oregon’s time-tested Death with Dignity law including George Eighmey, retired executive director of C&C of Oregon and Ann Jackson, the former CEO of the Oregon Hospice Association. Barbara Roberts, who was governor of Oregon when voters approved of their law in 1994, is scheduled to speak to the committee on Friday.

The chair of the Health and Welfare Committee expects her committee will approve the bill by Friday. From there, it’ll head to the Judiciary Committee. All eyes are on Vermont right now as Vermonters work to make history.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

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