Vermont Residents Lobbied Hard to Back Legalizing Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 21, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Vermont Residents Lobbied Hard to Back Legalizing Assisted Suicide

by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
October 21, 2003

Monepelier, VT ( — The fight to make Vermont the second state to legalize assisted suicide continues with involvement from the national office of End-of-Life Choices, formerly the Hemlock Society, and a vote from the Vermont Medical Society.

End-of-Life Choices sent a mailing to 130,000 Vermont residents, asking for donations and naming a Vermont advisory committee, which includes retired federal Judge Franklin Billings, former Govs. Madeleine Kunin and Philip Hoff, former Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling, doctors, clergy and others.

"Our grass-roots effort has done so well, we’ve gotten the attention of the national organization," said former state senator Richard McCormack, who is in charge of developing the Vermont chapter. According to the Vermont chapter of End-of-Life Choices, the mailing list is a $50,000 investment in the state chapter’s efforts.

In their annual meeting on October 17-18, the Vermont Medical Society voted to poll it’s 1,400 members by mail, in order to decide where the organization will stand on the issue of physician assisted suicide. The results of the poll, which is scheduled to be tabulated November 12, will be used to decide whether the VMS will change its existing policy of opposing physician assisted suicide.

Prior to the meeting, some members had stated they were considering a neutral position on the issue. During the meeting however, several members stated their preference to upholding the opposition policy.

"I can’t be neutral on the killing or the possibility of killing," said Dr. Felix Callan of Waterbury. "The proposal (to take a neutral position) puts us on the dark side. There will be an erosion of the faith that folks have in us as healers."

The group’s former president, Dr. Lloyd Thompson, was recently reprimanded for ending the life of an 85-year-old patient without her consent or that of her family. While Dr. Thompson did no speak during the VMS debate, he did speak at the close of the meeting.

"The crucial thing is to take good care of persons who are dying," Callan said. "The treatment of the dying is the treatment of people who are still alive."

Governor James Douglas spoke to the VMS before the meeting, and expressed his opposition to the legalization of assisted suicide in Vermont. He said the responsibility of doctors was to "relieve pain and help people die in dignity and see to it that death is not hastened by medical intervention."

Attorney General William Sorrell announced to the group that he has assembled a task force to improve care for terminally ill patients. He did not, however, discuss any pending legislation, so as not to "taint any legal opinions I may be asked to give" to the state legislature.

An assisted suicide bill, modeled after the Oregon law passed by referendum in 1992, failed in the Vermont legislature this year, but pro-euthanasia groups, such as End of Life Choices, are pushing for its consideration next year.