February 15, 2017
Senator Patrick Leahy
437 Russell Senate Bldg
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Leahy:
I have read of your serious concerns about Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch. I trust that you are already aware of his position on medical aid in dying, but I want to let you know of the direct impact his appointment could have on the freedom of choice of Vermont citizens.
Patient Choices Vermont is the organization that successfully lobbied for the adoption of Vermont's End-of-Life Choice Law (Act 39), which was adopted in 2013. Like similar laws in Oregon, Washington and now California, Act 39 enables a mentally competent adult who has been diagnosed as having no more than six months to live to request terminal medication. The patient can then take the medication or not as he or she may decide. More than 30 Vermonters have already used the law, dying peacefully with family by their sides. Many more write us every month to express their gratitude for the comfort of knowing they can have a measure of control in their final days.
Patient Choices Vermont was founded in 2002, and it took 11 years and countless hearings, meetings, briefings and careful drafting before Act 39 was passed. My parents, Dick and Ginny Walters, founded this organization and provided the persistent leadership it required. My father, who was dying of lung cancer, used the law in 2015, and my personal experience was that it was a life-giving treatment that enabled him to deepen many important connections in his final days.
Mr. Gorsuch wrote a book entitled "The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia," in which he argues that terminally-ill patients do not have a right and should not be permitted the choice to hasten their own death with their doctor's assistance, regardless of their suffering. To permit this, he maintains, is immoral.
Also, in 2006, the Supreme Court decided the Gonzales case in which the Court concluded that the Controlled Substances Act did not supersede Oregon's Death with Dignity law. The Court commented that the policy on aid in dying should be left to the states.
Our board and supporters are deeply concerned that if Mr. Gorsuch is named to the Supreme Court and when medical aid in dying cases make their way through the judicial system, he will be inclined to rule according to his own values. Such a case is currently at the District Court level here in Vermont. In this case, two religious organizations claim that their member doctors should not be required to even discuss self-directed end-of-life options with patients or to refer patients to a physician who will discuss all options. Patient Choices Vermont and the national organization Compassion and Choices have jointly intervened in this case.
Equally concerning is the move afoot in the U.S. Senate to override the votes of the District of Columbia City Council and Mayor, who recently adopted a medical aid in dying law like the one we have in Vermont.
If, at any point, it would be helpful for you or your staff to have further information on any of these matters, we would be happy to brief you and provide whatever support we can as you move toward Senate hearings on Mr. Gorsuch. We appreciate your work in this difficult appointment process.
Betsy J. Walkerman, Esq.