by Angela Chagnon
Governor Peter Shumlin promised during his campaign that Vermont would pass a so-called “Death With Dignity” law in 2011:
“As Governor, I will strongly champion death with dignity legislation. … As Governor, I will make this a top priority and ask the legislature to take this civil rights issue up and pass it prior to adjournment in 2011.”
The bill was introduced in February and assigned to the House Human Services Committee, chaired by Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington). Since then, it’s been silent as, well, a graveyard.
Dick Walters, founder of Patient Choices Vermont, was not available for comment. However, his wife Ginny said that the bill had not yet been considered by the committee but was expected to be introduced in the Senate shortly.
Although legislators are mum about the bill, money from the “Death with Dignity Political Action Fund” located in Oregon has been pouring into the state. The Boston Globe wrote in February of this year, “The Death With Dignity National Center pledged $100,000 to the Vermont group in November, though Walters said just a fraction of that money had been spent.”
A fundraising page on their website, titled “Help Us Bring Death With Dignity to New England”, states:
“Oregon Death with Dignity Political Fund is working together with Patient Choices at End of Life – Vermont to make Death with Dignity legislation a reality in 2011.”
Attempts to pass assisted suicide laws in Maine, Hawaii, and New Hampshire have been unsuccessful and the Montana legislature has put the issue on hold. Another posting on the Oregon-based “Death with Dignity” website, dated November 3, 2010, announced the start of the assisted suicide campaign in Vermont and exposes their plan to use Vermont as a “foothold” to pass the legislation in other states.
“Passing a new law in 2011 will establish a foothold in New England and set the stage for a successful 2012 ballot initiative campaign.
A new law in Vermont will show it is possible to pass Death with Dignity laws through state legislatures for the 26 states without ballot initiatives or referendums.”
Now the Oregon “Death with Dignity” group wants the Governor to make good on his campaign promise, which is understandable since they have put so much effort and money into helping him get elected to ensure passage of an assisted suicide law. ( Whether he will follow through remains to be seen. The Boston Globe article mentioned above points out:
“[I]t is not clear the measure will come to a vote on the House floor this year. [Shap] Smith [D-Morristown], who took over as speaker in 2009, is a lawyer outside the legislative session who lives by the lawyer’s rule of trying never to ask a question to which the answer is not known. He has developed a reputation and record of declining to bring controversial matters to the House floor unless he has the votes to pass them.
“One of the things I have learned is that it’s a good idea to have your ducks in a row,” Smith said. “It gives people confidence you know what you’re doing.”
Rep. Topper McFaun (R-Barre Town), a member of the Human Services Committee, said that the committee hasn’t yet taken up the bill. “It’s still on the wall,” he said. “We haven’t talked about that coming up.”
When asked if the bill had been labeled a priority or if it was going to be considered in the near future, McFaun replied, “The only thing mentioned is that there is a bill.” He continued, “[Ann Pugh] asked people which ones we should spend some time on, I didn’t put it down as a priority.”