Pro-assisted suicide Vermont lawmakers are working to loosen the state’s assisted suicide law by removing some of the safeguards currently in place. The push for change was initiated by Rep. Willem Jewett, a state legislator who recently died by assisted suicide after a bout with mucosal melanoma. Jewett said that the process he had to go through — which included two in-person requests for assisted dying, a written request, and visits with two different doctors — was too cumbersome.
In 2013, Jewett was influential in passing Act 39, the Vermont law that legalized assisted suicide. Newsweek reported that in the weeks prior to his death, Jewett contacted the nonprofit organization Patient Choices Vermont with the hopes of getting it to continue to advocate for changes to the law. That group then contacted Senator Dick McCormack with the request that he introduce legislation to change the current requirements.
In response to the request, lawmakers are now considering S.74, which would make three key changes to the state’s assisted suicide law. First, it would eliminate the requirement for an in-person physical exam for assisted suicide, allowing for telemedicine visits instead. Second, it would eliminate the 48-hour waiting period. Finally, the proposed change would extend legal protections to other medical professionals, like pharmacists, who are involved in procuring suicide drugs. Right now there is only one pharmacy in the state willing to prescribe the suicide drug cocktail because legal ambiguities under the current law could open up pharmacists to a lawsuit should something go wrong.
Legal safeguards like those currently in place are not there to make people’s lives difficult — they’re there to protect those lives. An in-person visit with a physician helps ensure that a person’s illness is actually considered terminal, the individual is of sound mind, and he or she is not making any decisions out of coercion. This is very difficult to ascertain over a video screen. A waiting period and written request are also the most minimal of safeguards. Speeding up the process of suicide and making it easier to die only further devalues lives and places them at greater risk.
A study out of Ireland published in the journal “Age and Ageing” revealed that of 8,000 older individuals living in a community setting, the wish to die was found to be temporary among the vast majority. Sixty percent of those who said they wished to die also had co-existing depressive symptoms and 75% said they were lonely. Of those who expressed a wish to die, however, within two years 72% said they no longer felt that way. In addition, their feelings of loneliness and depressive symptoms also improved, which suggests an important connection and demonstrates the need for depression to be properly diagnosed and for safeguards such as waiting periods to exist.
Unfortunately, those who advocate for assisted suicide are missing the mark. Assisted suicide is a tragedy, and states should be fighting for better compassionate care and palliative treatment rather than an easier, faster way for people to die.
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