George testified before the Vermont Senate Health and Welfare Committee about the proposed Death with Dignity bill (Senate Bill 77) last week. He observed the hours of hearings that went on throughout the week. Below are his observation of the proceedings.
The Vermont legislature is poised to pass an Oregon like Death with Dignity bill within the next few weeks. Attempts to enact a right to die act in Vermont have been going on since 2007, but it appears 2013 may be the year it finally passes. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin made passage of the law a high priority and has enlisted the speaker of the house and president of the senate, both Democrats, to shepherd the bill through the legislative process.
Senator Claire Ayer, chair of the Vermont Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, held hearings on the proposed end-of-life care bill during January and February. Testimony was received from supporters Ann Jackson, former director of Oregon’s Hospice Association; Margaret Battin, PhD, distinguished professor of philosophy and internal medicine; former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts; George Eighmey, former director of Compassion & Choices of Oregon, an organization facilitating patients and medical professional in using Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act; and from dozens of Vermonters including the Vermont medical director and a Vermont palliative care specialist. In addition, Dr. Charles Bentz, a member of a small group of Oregon physicians opposed to the law, testified along with the usual “Not Dead Yet” people, religious opponents and anti-government people.
It was apparent supporters were more credible. We were able to point to 15 years of data, published by the Oregon Department of Health, that the law has been flawlessly implemented. The law, used by 673 terminally ill Oregonians through 2012, has provided countless thousands with comfort knowing the law is available. Opponents in the meantime produced no proof of misuse, but continued their unsubstantiated allegations by citing to their own opinion pieces, published as letters to the editor, that the law doesn’t work.
The Health and Welfare committee approved the bill by the end of the week and sent it to the Senate floor where it was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further hearings. Kathryn Tucker, legal counsel for Compassion & Choices and who is considered one of the national experts on Oregon’s law, will testify in support of the bill while opponents plan to have a few less than credible people testify.
Sometime in February, the Judiciary Committee chair, who is opposed to the law, will hopefully send the bill to the Senate floor with a no recommendation vote. If he does so, it looks very good the bill will pass the Senate by a close margin, and then go to the Vermont House of Representatives where it will go through a similar process. It hopefully will pass sometime in March in the House and be on the Governor’s desk for his signature in late March or early April. Supporters continue to be cautiously optimistic, but as we all know the opponents have fear instead of reason to undermine our rights.
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