Momentum in Montpelier for Death with Dignity Bill

Dick Walters, photo by A. Redlich
Dick Walters, photo by A. Redlich

Dick Walters is the president of Patient Choices at End of Life Vermont. The article below is his reflection on the 2011-2012 legislative session which came to a close on Saturday, May 5th.

The majority of Vermonters support the Death with Dignity bill. They can be proud of the progress made in the 2011-2012 legislative session toward enactment of this civil right. The issue has gained real momentum in the state capital.

The Death with Dignity bill would give terminally ill patients with fewer than six months to live the option—the choice—to request medication that they would self-administer as a way to control the timing and manner of their death.

The recent death of Vermont Republican Congressman Richard Mallary demonstrated the real need for the bill. Congressman Mallary was a well-respected leader in our state, and for years he called for passage of this bill—even appearing at a press conference at the beginning of this biennium. Unfortunately, the bill was not passed before his terminal illness overcame him. The revelation that he took his own life without the benefit of the peaceful approach allowed by the bill reminded all of us why we are fighting for this change.

The progress made and momentum for passage is clear.

Governor Peter Shumlin is a vocal champion for the bill’s passage.

Speaker of the House Shap Smith, the most powerful legislator in Montpelier, supports the measure. He, this year, stated confidently that the House stood ready to pass the bill if it passed the Senate.

Citizen activism supporting the bill this year reached an incredible level. The 2-1 public support demonstrated in poll after poll came through in the thousands of phone calls and emails that poured into the statehouse urging passage.

Senate supporters showed that they are willing to fight for enactment of this important civil right. Despite the bill being hampered by procedural issues in the Statehouse, the Chair of the Senate Health Committee, Claire Ayer, showed real leadership by helping the issue break through the wrangling so it could be aired on the Senate floor.

This year’s Senate floor debate helped publicly discredit a number of the false claims made against the bill. The fourteen-year track record of the Oregon Death with Dignity law and the law’s success in Washington state came through in the debate as a sound and responsible foundation for Vermont to act upon.

The Senate floor action this year wasn’t on the merits of the bill so it doesn’t accurately reflect the Senators’ positions on the bill. The spirited two-hour discussion of the issue there this winter ended with a procedural vote that precluded a vote on the bill itself. WCAX-TV noted, “That 18-11 [vote] doesn’t necessarily indicate how the Senate stands on the issue…Several senators made a point Thursday to say this vote is about the rules and following the process. They were very specific about that.”

Change can be difficult, but lawmakers will find a way to pass a bill favored by most Vermonters. Our state’s history shows that Vermont has an instinct to lead in matters of civil rights. We believe we are well on the way to achieve this important step.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

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