The Vermont legislators behind the 2013 passage of a bill legalizing doctor-assisted suicide faced major backlash in the 2014 elections.
After his election in 2012, Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin led the fight to pass Act 39, which allows doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to critically ill patients who want to end their lives. In 2014, he faced what should have been an easy re-election battle against his Republican challenger – a political newcomer who entered the race late and with very little funding. Instead, he barely survived the race, winning by only a few thousand votes, and is likely to lose his position as chair of the Democrat Governors Association.
State Rep. Linda Waite-Simpson was the House’s most vocal advocate for legalized assisted suicide. She repeatedly said she was “doing this for my Dad who was a member of the Hemlock Society,” and made her support for the issue a major focus of her re-election campaign. Not only did Waite-Simpson lose her seat, she came in fourth place in a two-seat district. Similarly, Rep. Cindy Weed lost her seat after making her support for Act 39 a campaign issue.
In contrast, Republican Lieutenant Gov. Phil Scott, who opposed Act 39, faced a campaign onslaught by the pro-suicide “Patient Choices Vermont PAC.” He was outspent by his nearest challenger, Dean Corren, who was a primary proponent of assisted suicide during his time in the state legislature. Even so, Scott defeated him by more than 2-to-1.
“We are buoyed by these election results which send a strong signal that support for killing a patient rather than caring for them is not a winning issue with the public, even in a state like Vermont,” said Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life. “And, it shouldn't be. Public education is key to informing the public that we must maintain the goal of caring for a patient until his or her natural death, rather than allowing death to occur by lethal ingestion of drugs.”