Rep Steve Vaillancourt


Canada Beats U.S. On Death With Dignity

It seems that our great neighbor to the North, Canada, has beaten the U.S. to the punch one again when it comes to one of my favoirte issues.

On the drive over from snowy New Hampshire to relatively snowless Vermont and Montreal, I heard this story on the radio.

The Canadian Suprime Court has given its Parliament only a year to craft acceptable right to die legilation.

This is an issue I've cared about nearly as much as gay marriage.

Canada beat U.S. to the punch to gay marriage (although we seem to be catching up), and now it appears Canada is going to leave us in the rear view mirror on this vital issue as well.  For anyone with a drop of libertarian blood, for anyone who claims to speak seriously about individual rights, what could be more important than the right to die with dignity?

Apparently we in the U.S. are way behind the rest of the civilized world.

We managed barely more than 50 votes in the New Hamphshire legislature last year on a bill that amounted to a very small step in the right direction, and now the three biggest right to die advocates (Rep. Joel Winters, Rep. Tim O'Flaherty, and I) are all gone.

Check out this good news from Canada, and never give up!


How Canada’s Right-to-Die Ruling Could Boost Movement in U.S.

Lee Carter embraces her husband Hollis Johnson while speaking to journalists at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Feb. 6, 2015.Chris Wattie—ReutersLee Carter embraces her husband Hollis Johnson while speaking to journalists at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Feb. 6, 2015.

Advocates say Supreme Court ruling could give momentum to U.S. states considering so-called 'death with dignity' bills

The Canadian Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision Friday that will allow physicians to provide life-ending medication to terminally ill patients.

The court ruled in part that banning a right to die in fact “deprives some individuals of life, as it has the effect of forcing some individuals to take their own lives prematurely, for fear that they would be incapable of doing so when they reached the point where suffering was intolerable.”

The groundbreaking 9-0 decision, which makes Canada one of just a handful of states to allow some form of “aid in dying,” comes as states in the U.S. consider allowing the practice for mentally competent patients with terminal illness. So-called death with dignity advocates said Friday that the decision by the U.S.’s northern neighbor could increase momentum across the border.

MORE: Death is Not Only for the Dying

“I think it will have a significant impact in the U.S.,” says Barbara Coombs-Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, a death with dignity advocacy group. “This isn’t happening in a far-off country. It sends a strong message throughout the continent.”

The “aid in dying” movements in Canada and the U.S. have similar histories. Both began around the late 1980s and early 1990s, and both have tried to achieve policy reforms through the courts and at the state or provincial level. But Friday’s Canadian court decision, which allows the practice nationwide, is a significant breakthrough for death with dignity advocates in Canada. It remains an unlikely scenario in the U.S., however, where reforms will likely come at a state level.

Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Death With Dignity National Center in the U.S., says she believes the court’s decision “will have a tremendous positive effect on a state-by-state level,” but that policy changes will continue to happen outside of Washington. The issue hasn’t gained much traction in Congress, and the Supreme Court isn’t likely to take up the issue anytime soon.

MORE: Why a Young Woman With Brain Cancer Moved to Oregon to Die

But there is considerable progress at the state level.

End-of-life practices are legal in Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Vermont, while legislation has been introduced in California, Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wyoming, plus the District of Columbia. Coombs-Lee says it’s being considered in some form in 25 states.

The movement began making significant strides thanks to the widely publicized story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old newlywed with brain cancer who moved from California to Oregon, which is just one of five states that allow terminally ill patients to obtain life-ending medication.

One state that aid-in-dying advocates are currently watching closely is New York, where terminally ill patients recently filed a lawsuit that would allow the practice. State lawmakers are also reportedlyconsidering introducing a death with dignity bill. But any sort of movement in U.S. federal courts like what happened in Canada will likely only occur once there’s more progress at the state level.

“I think a federal constitutional protection could be acknowledged at some point,” says Coombs-Lee, “but only after there is already a critical mass of states where it is already authorized.”

The Canadian decision struck down laws that banned doctors from participating in ending a patient’s life and reversed an earlier Supreme Court ruling, saying that current bans violated rights of life, liberty and security as protected by the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Last year, Quebec passed right-to-die legislation, making it the only Canadian province to allow the practice.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Jonathan Kay



Will People Go to Canada to Die?

Last week’s historic Canadian Supreme Court decision overturns a longstanding ban on physician-assisted suicide, but the impact on the United States may be minimal.

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously found a “right to die” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Canadian Bill of Rights). Under the ruling, the Canadian government now has 12 months to create a legal regime that allows patients suffering from grievous and irremediable medical conditions the right to end their lives with a doctor’s assistance.

It is arguably one of the most important decisions in the history of Canadian jurisprudence – but its impact in the United States is likely to be limited. 

As in most “right to die” cases, the facts in Carter v. Canada are grim. The initial plaintiffs were Gloria Taylor, who suffered from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and Kay Carter, who suffered from degenerative spinal stenosis. Both are now deceased.

ALS is extremely rare, affecting only about 1 out of every 50,000 people per year. (To put this figure in perspective: That would equate roughly to one ALS sufferer out of the entire Yankee Stadium audience that watched Gehrig declare, on July 4, 1939, that he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”) But sufferers of the disease have played an outsized role in Canadian right-to-die jurisprudence: In the early 1990s, an ALS-afflicted British Columbia woman named Sue Rodriguez launched a constitutional challenge against the ban on physician-assisted suicide. That litigation ended with a 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision upholding the prohibition.

The Rodriguez decision had been the law of the land in Canada for more than 20 years — until last week.

The slow, steady, agonizing manner by which ALS kills its victims helps explain why sufferers of this disease have been disproportionately prominent in the struggle for access to physician-assisted suicide.

As muscles degenerate during the initial stages of ALS, patients gradually lose the ability to initiate voluntary movement. After three or four years, bowel functions, eye movement and lung operation typically begin to fail, too — until such time as the patient dies by suffocation. During all this, brain and sensory function typically is unimpeded, so the patient experiences all of these horrors helplessly, but lucidly. It is not surprising that some ALS patients want to be spared these creeping horrors, and seek a way to die with dignity at a time of their own choosing.

It is this combination of mental competency with complete physical helplessness that makes ALS a grimly ideal case study for assisted-suicide proponents: Such patients can provide informed consent to their own death, but lack the means to accomplish the task on their own.

Taylor died peacefully from an acute bacterial infection in 2012 before her ALS proceeded to its final deadly phase. She was, in a morbid sense, “lucky.” As I havewritten elsewhere, her story shows how laws against physician-assisted suicide turn the act of dying into a bioethical lottery: Patients in the advanced stages of terrible diseases have to rely on some random pathogen to perform the mercy that a well-regulated medical corps should make available to us, if we wish it.  

“They suffer from the knowledge that they lack the ability to bring a peaceful end to their lives.”

Last week’s Supreme Court of Canada ruling is persuasive precisely because it poignantly captures the wrenching dilemma faced by people who suffer from degenerative conditions such as ALS. The Court wrote that Taylor was left with the cruel choice “between killing herself while she was still physically capable of doing so, or giving up the ability to exercise any control over the manner and timing of her death.”

The Court continued, “[Other] witnesses described the progression of degenerative illnesses like motor neuron diseases or Huntington’s disease, while others described the agony of treatment and the fear of a gruesome death from advanced-stage cancer. Yet running through the evidence of all the witnesses is a constant theme — that they suffer from the knowledge that they lack the ability to bring a peaceful end to their lives at a time and in a manner of their own choosing.”  

“Some [witnesses] describe how they had considered seeking out the traditional modes of suicide but found that choice, too, repugnant,” the Justices added.

By way of example, they quote one witness to the effect that “I was going to blow my head off. I have a gun and I seriously considered doing it. I decided that I could not do that to my family. It would be horrible to put them through something like that. I want a better choice than that.” 

Legal developments in the United States contributed indirectly to this important moment in Canadian constitutional law. For many years, opponents of physician-assisted suicide have warned that patients may request to die at a moment of psychological weakness; or that they will overlook the possibility that their remaining time on earth will have meaning beyond that which they presently can imagine. (One example they might cite in this regard is Stephen Hawking, who suffers from a slow-progressing form of ALS.)


Hibernating With John Irving And Armisted Maupin


Armisted Maupin (above), John Iriving below.

Just checking in.  I hadn't turned this computer on for seven weeks and wasn't sure I should again now.  You know me; it's either all in or nothing. Now, I'll probably post 20 things while I'm here in Vermont and Montreal.

I've spent much of the winter in hibernation, rereading all of John Irving's novels (13) and now I've started rereading all the "Tales of the City" series by Arminsted Maupin (9 of them now).  Those are set in San Francisco, made into a tv series quite a while back with Olympia Dukakis as the transsexual land"lady" Mrs. Madrigal at 28  Barbary Lane overlooking the bay.  Great stuff.  There were three new ones since I last checked.  Unlike Irving (lengthy but fantastci) Maupin can be read in a day.

"Cider House Rules" remains my favorite followed by "A Prayer for Owen Meany" and "A Son of the Circus".

I'm at my brother's house in Vermont; you know it's a bad winter when you are forced to head to Vermont and Montreal to get away from the snow!  

Watched the 1962 black and white movie "To Kill A Mockingbird" today; I reread the novel at New Years.  It's arguably the best piece of American literature of all time.  Now there's a new controversy about whether Harper Lee, deaf and blind in a nursing home today, actually wrote another novel prior to "Mockingbird" and whether it's going to be released.  In a sense, I hope not.  Why risk tainting what was very close to perfection...although I never liked how Harper Lee let Atticus Finch's brother beat Scout in one scene in the book.  Oh well, Boo Radley, played by Robert Duval in one very famous and brief scene in the movie, is fantastic; make that "Mr. Arthur Radley".  

To borrow a phrase John Irving uses to describe two of his characters (including the narrator in "Owen Meany"), Harper Lee was most likely a "non practicing homosexual".

How's this for a trivia question; which of his other characters did Irving refer to as a "non-practicing homosexual"?  Check back in when you've reread all 13 of his novels.  I'm waiting anxisously for number 14; it's been almost three years.

Hint--It was an academy award winning role in another movie.  And not Robin Williams as Garp (he was quite the hetero!).  


Speaker Jasper Shortchanges Republicans On Finance

Either New Hampshire House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, is mathematically challenged or we are seeing the first sign of payback to House Democrats for supporting him in the bizarre win in early December.

With 26 members on the Finance Committee, simple arithmetic (based on members of the House in each party) would dictate a split of 16 Republicans and 10 Democrats, yet Jasper has given Republicans only 15 seats on the committee and Democrats 11.

Admittedly it's a close call and some rounding will be involved, but follow along with me.

Republicans captured 239 seats in the House.  239 is 59.75% of the 400 seats (239 divided by 400).

59.75 percent of 26 Finance Committee seats is 15.535.  That would be rounded up to 16 unless Jasper had cut some kind of underhanded deal with Democrats.

Look at it the other way.  Democrats captured 160 seats.  That's exactly 40 percent of 400 seats.

26 times 40 percent is 10.4 seats; anyone not trying to pay back some type of deal would round that down to 10, not up to 11.

Even if you Democrats the benefit of the doubt and credit them with the lone undeclared member for a total of 141 seats, the percentage is only 40.25.  40.25 times 26 is 10.4572 which again should be rounded down to 10, not up go 11.

This fact should be all the more horrifying for Republicans since Finance Committee members are supposed to be able to deal with numbers, and these are the simplest of arithmetic calculations.

How someone like Chairman Neal Kurk or Vice Chairman Lynn Ober did not pick up this mathematical error is beyond me.

Even more alarming is the alternative theory, that they were smart enough to pick up Jasper's mathematical error and he simply pooh-poohed their concerns.

I can't believe I'm the only one who has caught this error and shudder to think how many more errors, either intentional or unintentional, to which the new Speaker will subject Republicans and the people of New Hampshire..

It appears the 11th Democratic seat (to the extent one can judge such things) has gone to former Finance Committee Chair and Marjorie Smith, D-Durham.  I feel compelled to point out that I both like and respect Rep. Smith a great deal.  Way back in 1999, she and I sat next to each other on the Finance Committee. That fact, however, does not negate the fact that the laws of math--or make that simple arithmetic--were violated in Jasper's creation of this committee.

A difference of 16-10 versus 15-11 could in fact mean a great deal since committee recommendations always carry a great deal of weight on the House floor.  The fact that the error occurs in the House's most important committee seems a tragedy which could lead to far more liberal measures being passed.  Although I like and respect her a great deal, Rep. Smith is certainly far more liberal than a 16th Republican on the committee would be.

Just in case you don't trust me, here's proof of the 15-11 split.


Secretary: Janet Clayman Phone: 271-3165
Researcher:   Location: RM 210-211 LOB
Committee Members: Email Committee Members
Chairman: Neal Kurk(r) Bills Currently in Committee
V. Chairman: Lynne Ober(r) Bills Originally Referred to Committee
Clerk:   Mailing list of Committee Members
  • Listen to Committee Hearings!
  • Kenneth Weyler (r) Mary Allen (r) Richard Barry (r)
    Karen Umberger (r) Dan McGuire (r) Betsy McKinney (r)
    Laurie Sanborn (r) Joseph Pitre (r) Timothy Twombly (r)
    Frank Byron (r) David Danielson (r) J. Tracy Emerick (r)
    Peter Spanos (r) Mary Jane Wallner (d) Sharon Nordgren (d)
    Marjorie Smith (d) Daniel Eaton (d) Peter Leishman (d)
    Cindy Rosenwald (d) Thomas Buco (d) William Hatch (d)
    Katherine Rogers (d) Susan Ford (d) Robert Walsh (d)

    Outdoor Smoking Banned; Forced Sick Time For Vermont?

    From Vergennes, Vermont

    I'm still reporting for the Socialist State of Vermont, solid Republican when I was growing up here in the sixties, solid Socialist now.  At the risk of giving New Hampshire legislators any silly ideas, here are two more examples of how Vermont has been taken over by left wing loonies.  

    Banning indoor smoking is not enough for the City Council of Burlington.  By an 11-3 vote, they decided to ban smoking even outdoors on Church Street, probably the most famous street in the state.  The ban passed in November and has already taken effect with a $50 fine for first offenders; $100 for second offenders; and life in prison for the third offenders (whoops! I made that last penalty up; the devil made me do it).

    When my brother told me about this bit of nanny state intrusion into lives of citizens, I was so incredulous that I googled it for proof.  Sure enough, signs have already gone up on the street and ash cans have been removed, and get this--while e-cigarettes (those vapor thingies) are still allowed indoors, they are part of the outside ban.

    Only in Vermont.

    Oh yes, my cousin Kurt Wright was one of the three votes against the ban, calling the move "more a solution looking for a problem."  Good for Kurt!   He has run for mayor twice and just barely lost both times, based on the weird automatic runoff in place in Burlington.  If no one gets 50 percent, they don't have a new election, they simply count second choices (and third choices) which people are persuaded to mark on their original ballots.

    Only in Vermont.

     A ban in parks may be next (story below).

    Channel 3 Burlington is reporting tonight that the Legislature will try again this year to force every business in the state to provide sick leave for all employees.  The bill failed last year with the explanation that the Legislature was focusing (successfully) on raising the minimum wage.  The Socialist Senators think they have the votes to pass this new intrusion this year; they cringe that 20 percent of Vermonters don't receive sick leave.  At least Channel 3 provided equal time for businesses fighting this new infringement on our capitalist system.

    Only in Vermont.

    Next Thursday, the Vermont Legislature will elect the next governor.  Forces for Republican Scott Milne, who finished one percent behind Peter Shumlin, are running dozens, if not hundreds, of commercials on Channel 3.  I suspect they'll backfire and Shumlin will win again.  The Legislature was forced to choose him in 2010 as well; that's what happens when more than a half dozen fringe candidates are on the ballot; no one reaches 50 percent.

    Only in Vermont.

    Church Street smoking ban gets final approval

    April Burbank, Free Press Staff Writer11:12 p.m. EST November 10, 2014
    -BUR 0623 smoking church C2.jpg_20140623.jpg
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    Burlington's Church Street Marketplace will prohibit smoking, following a vote from the Burlington City Council on Monday and support from Mayor Miro Weinberger.

    Councilors expressed concern about the health effects of secondhand smoke, though a few wondered whether the new ordinance would be too restrictive. The ban passed by an 11-3 vote.

    The measure prohibits the use of lighted tobacco products, as well as "tobacco substitutes" like electronic cigarettes, at all times on the Church Street pedestrian walkway between Main Street and Pearl Street. A first violation carries a $50 fine; subsequent offenses after a warning will be fined $100.

    It was unclear what date the new smoking ban will take effect. City Attorney Eileen Blackwood said Monday night that she was looking into the question.

    Prior to the vote, councilors heard a public forum dominated by supporters of the proposed smoking ban.

    Joe Harig said he likes to visit Speeder and Earl's Coffee on Church Street with his wife every Sunday.

    "We can't sit for a 10-minute span without gagging on someone else's secondhand smoke," Harig said. "I start to get a headache, I start to get a sore throat, I start to get a tad bit irritable."

    "In my opinion, a vote against this ordinance is a vote for Big Tobacco," said Eli Lesser-Goldsmith, a member of the Church Street Marketplace Commission, which unanimously supported the Church Street smoking ban.

    City Councilor Jane Knodell, P-Ward 2, was one of three councilors who opposed the measure, with Kurt Wright, R-Ward 4, and Max Tracy, P-Ward 2.

    "It does send a message that smokers are not welcome on the Church Street Marketplace," Knodell said. "I think it will reduce the diversity of people who feel like the Church Street Marketplace is a place for them, too."

    Wright called the smoking ban "more a solution looking for a problem."

    City Council President Joan Shannon, D-Ward 5, spoke personally about secondhand smoke on Church Street.

    As someone with asthma, Shannon said smoke makes it difficult for her to sit outside at a Church Street cafe. Banning smoking would target behavior, not people, she said.

    "I want to be able to enjoy the marketplace," Shannon said.

    Also during public forum, several people spoke in favor of banning smoking in city parks — a separate resolution considered by the City Council for the first time on Monday.

    "One's right to clean air supersedes anyone's right to smoke in a public park," said John Bossange, a member of the Burlington Parks and Recreation Commission


    Sabato--Republicans Have "Clear Edge" To Keep Senate

    The Crystal Ball, web site of University of Virginia political guru Larry Sabato, my favorite of all gurus, is just out with lengthy new analysis basically confirming what I wrote here a week ago, that Republicans are favored to maintain control of the United States Senate in 2016 despite having to defend 24 seats as opposed to only 10 for Democrats.

    Sabato (his staffer Kyle Kondik actually) has no seats likely to change control, but his analyst agrees with me that three Republican-controlled states, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, start out as toss-ups.

    The Crystal Ball has Nevada as leans Democratic but notes that it would quickly flip to leans Republican if popular Governor Brian Sandoval decides to challenge Harry Reid.  Democrat Michael Bennet is also slightly favored in Colorado, and I would agree with that.

    However, I disagree with The Crystal Ball in thinking that Kelly Ayotte is in any kind of trouble here in the state I know best, New Hampshire.  Kondik's analysis doesn't seem to take into account victory margins in 2010 at all; Ayotte won by 23 points against a popular sitting Congressman (Paul Hodes), and unlike in bigger states, a Congressman represents half of the entire state here in small New Hampshire..]

    Kondik also appears to underrate Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman; he seems like a sure thing for re-election in my book.  I would also rate North Carolina and Florida as somewhat safer for Republicans (although that sentiment tends to come across in Kondik's separate detailed comments).

    Kondik also colors Washington a darker shade of blue than I would considering how close Senator Patty Murray came to losing in 2010.

    The Crystal Ball, a highly respected service widely read by insiders, should help put to rest the rumors that wishful thinking Democrats are spreading that they have a good shot at retaking the Senate in 2016.  Kondik summarizes Democratic chances (see below) at "significantly less than 50-50."   He also uses the words "clear edge" for Republicans to keep control.  

    Another way of saying that, at least as I parse words, is that Democratic chances are not all that good, certainly less percentage-wise than Republican chances were throughout all of 2014.  Keep in mind that it took a wave election for Republicans to turn those numbers around, and on one (at least not yet) is looking at a Democratic wave come 2016 (run, Liz, run!).

    The best news for Republicans is that most, if not all, incumbents seem intent on running for re-election.

    I would stand by my initial prediction of a gain of two seats for Democrats leaving Republicans with a 52-48 advantage in the U.S. Senate come 2017.

    With the exception of a decision from Sandoval in 2015, we may well have to wait at least a year until we know much more about these races, so political junkies, having devoted this, should get something of a reprieve.

    Here's the Crystal Ball map followed by a few pertinent paragraphs summing up the situation.

    The entire article is much lengthier and goes into individual races in much greater detail.


    Conclusion By Kyle Kondik (The Crystal Ball)

    "Republicans really helped themselves by running up the score last month in the Senate.

    The importance of netting nine seats in 2014 as opposed to, say, seven or eight, is clear when one looks at the 2016 contests. If the Republicans were at only a 52-48 edge — a net gain of seven — then Democrats could get to a 51-49 majority in 2016 just by holding all of their own seats and winning the three Toss-ups, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The chances of that combination happening wouldn’t be 50-50, but they would be fairly close to even, and control of the Senate would be very much up in the air to start.

    But because the Democrats need to net four or five seats to take control, depending on the party of the next vice president, the Democrats’ opening odds to win the majority are significantly less than 50-50. In order to capture the Senate, Democrats will have to put some currently leaning or likely Republican seats in play, along with winning their own seats and the three GOP-held Toss-ups. That’s certainly possible, but the GOP starts with a clear edge as the cycle begins. However, our opening assessment is that Democrats are well-positioned to end the cycle with more seats than they will hold starting in January (46, including the two independents who caucus with the Democrats).

    Of course, history — very recent history — raises questions about even that modest opening evaluation.