Who is funding the Physician Prescribed Death movement in Vermont?

by Angela Chagnon  

“I am pleased and proud to report that the Death with Dignity National Center in Oregon has decided to partner with us and bring to us their expertise and a pledge for $100,000 of the total ($200,000 budget),” wrote Dick Walters, president of Patient Choices at End of Life-Vermont (now Patient Choices-Vermont).

A fundraising letter sent out by Walters outlines the group’s financial goals for their campaign to pass a Physician Prescribed Death law in Vermont in 2011. The letter notes in addition to the $200,000 goal and $100,000 donation by the Oregon organization, the Dewitt Family Foundation based in Au Haut, Maine, “a staunch supporter of our effort over the years,” also pledged $15,000 to the cause.

According to the October 15,, 2010, campaign finance report filed by the Patient Choices Victory Fund, just twenty-six individual Vermont donors (contributors of over $100 or more) combined for a total of $20,700 to support Physician Prescribed Death. These contributions came overwhelmingly from Vermont’s wealthiest towns (Stowe, Manchester, Londonderry, Jericho) with a significant focus on Shelburne and its affluent Wake Robin Life Care Retirement Home. Fully half of the twenty-six in-state donors came from Wake Robin, accounting for $12,700 of the $20,700 reported in-state dollars raised.

“I think that there is a small number of people there [Wake Robin], a small organized group, that feel that people should be entitled to do this as a right,” said Representative Ann Donahue of Northfield, a member of the House Committee of Human Services who is also editor of Counterpoint, a quarterly mental health publication distributed for free throughout Vermont. Rep. Donahue was a leader in opposition to the defeated Physisican Assisted Suicide bill in 2007.

Dick Walters’ letter warns, “Opponents are vehement and determined, with reasons ranging from well-meaning to invasive. In their zeal, they distort the truth and raise false alarms. Many of them refuse to recognize our civil right and try to impose a conservative religious belief on everyone else.”

This is what the fund is designed to combat. So where has/will this money go?

During the 2010 political campaign, the Patient Choices Victory Fund gave $350 to each of ten Democratic state senate candidates and one Republican, $250 to two Democratic senate candidates, and between $200 and $350 to eleven Democratic house candidates, two Republicans and one Progressive. Twenty-six of the twenty-nine legislative candidates backed by the Patient Choices Victory Fund won election.

The expenditure report for the Patient Choices Victory Fund, filed July 15 2010, shows that each of the five Democratic candidates for governor received $300. Of those, Doug Racine is now Secretary of Heath & Human Services, Susan Bartlett is a special assistant to the governor, Deb Markowitz is secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, and Peter Shumlin is Governor of the State of Vermont.

This is the second in a series of articles on Physician Prescribed Death legislation. The next will focus on the debate between activists on both sides of the issue.