Death with Dignity Hot Topic in Northeast

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VT Gov. Shumlin, photo care of the New England Governors' Conference
VT Gov. Shumlin, photo care of the New England Governors’ Conference

Earlier this month, Peg Sandeen mentioned how the recent high-profile work in Massachusetts has elevated and amplified the national conversation about assisted death. And in just in the last week, I’ve noticed a marked increase in articles about Death with Dignity laws throughout the northeast region. Coverage continued in Massachusetts, and opinion pieces in favor or Death with Dignity popped up multiple times in Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont.

Some highlights:

  • VTDigger and other media outlets picked up Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s strong statements about what he’d like to see as legislative priorities in the upcoming session. Regarding Death with Dignity:

    It’s the right thing to do, and the Legislature will do what’s right for Vermonters.

    Shumlin said he supports the Death with Dignity bill because he doesn’t understand why the state should interfere in a private decision made by an individual who has a terminal illness and wants to avoid suffering through the last 10 to 14 days of life.

  • Asbury Park Press and the Daily Record published several opinion pieces and letters in support of New Jersey Assemblyman John Burzichelli’s Death with Dignity bill introduced earlier this year.
    • Ron Esser in Monmouth Beach encouraged others to respect our country’s diversity of religion saying, “I believe we should all be given the right to make the choice to die when there is no medical likelihood we will survive. Religions of all types pose as being all knowing in these cases, and they impose their interpretation of God’s will upon us.”
    • Roseann Sellani, a nurse and attorney from Pittsgrove, stated her support for the proposed law for the sake of open and honest conversations about end-of-life options: “The proposed Death with Dignity Act opens the door to frank discussions by doctors with their patients because it will give patients a choice, about whether to endure or not, and permit physicians to include discussions about allowing the illness to take its course.”
    • Linda Kilcrease from Dover wrote about how the Oregon law has become a leader in hospice care stating, “Oregon is a great success story. A leader in hospice care, only 1 in 500 terminally ill patients use the medicine. Others feel great peace knowing they have a choice, and there has been no case of abuse.”
    • Reverend Bill Neely from Princeton told a heartbreaking story of a woman who should have had the option to control the manner and timing of her death and why people should have more options at the end of their lives: “For some, it is a final act of dignity, made with clarity and purpose. And a compassionate state can legislate this option for those who seek it rather than denying it to everyone.”
  • The Hartford Courant published an editorial which included a great summary about how the Oregon Death with Dignity Act has worked and how thoroughly it’s been challenged and found to be a model law for improved end-of-life options. A common theme among many of these opinion pieces, the Courant’s editorial also stressed the importance of respecting religious diversity:

    The last time the issue got as far as a public hearing in Connecticut, in 1995, opposition came mostly from religious groups. They are entitled to their beliefs, of course, but many of the arguments they put forth have since been proved wrong in Oregon, which has had a Death with Dignity law on the books for 15 years; Washington has a similar law.

  • Norm Pattis, a Connecticut based trial lawyer wrote an editorial for the New Haven Register imploring his state to better understand its role in end-of-life care:

    The point, Socrates once said, is not merely to live, but to live well. The state has no business policing the boundaries of life and death once a person decides it’s time to go.

There’s no question, the conversation about end-of-life options including Death with Dignity is increasing. Before too long, lawmakers will have no choice but to listen to the will of the people. The Death with Dignity National Center will stand with them, just as we did this year in Massachusetts, in Washington in 2008, and 18 years ago in Oregon.

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