An ex-diplomat in a china shop

Congratulations, Mr. Ambassador. You single-handedly overturned a legislative process that had been building for years, and derailed a thoughtful debate through your own intransigence.

I say again, how in hell did Peter Galbraith ever make a successful diplomat?

The subject here is the rapid and confusing turn of events on the Senate floor today. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 17-13 to advance a death-with-dignity bill toward a final vote. But Galbraith joined the majority only to keep the game going, as he planned to advance his own amendment that would completely gut the bill.

And thanks to the closeness of the vote, he had the power to do just that.

Note to Galbraith: Just because you have power doesn’t mean you ought to use it. I think that’s something they teach diplomats.

The original bill, shepherded by Sen. Claire Ayer, was based on the Oregon model. Oregon has allowed doctor-assisted suicide under strictly controlled conditions for fifteen years; it has worked exactly as intended, allowing a tiny number of people to end their lives after meeting tough criteria. It’s a carefully crafted system.

Galbraith’s substitute bill would simply indemnify a doctor who prescribes a lethal dose to a patient. Even I, neither a doctor nor a lawyer, can see lots of problems and unanswered questions there. If he was serious about this, he should have introduced it earlier in the session, instead of springing it on the Senate at the very last minute.

Galbraith insisted that his bill had the same intent as Ayer’s, but it had a completely different effect on the Senate vote. Opponents of the Ayer bill lined up in favor of Galbraith’s, while Ayer’s allies all voted no.

The vote means that the Ayer bill is now dead for this session.

Instead, the Senate’s only option is Galbraith’s hastily-drawn and very brief amendment that hasn’t been vetted by legal or medical experts. Supporters of death with dignity will face a tough choice: vote yes on a bill they don’t like — at all — or vote no and wait to fight another day.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Ayer’s opponents jumped on the Galbraith bill as a way to kill the issue, and that they will reverse course tomorrow and vote “no.” If they do, and if a single supporter of death with dignity can’t bear to vote for the Galbraith version, then the bill will die.

Without dignity.

I know there are some GMDers who oppose death with dignity. And although I support the Ayer bill, my complaint isn’t over the fact of its defeat — but rather the underhanded way it was defeated.

They say that lawmaking is like sausage-making: a close-up view can cost you your appetite. That’s certainly the case here. And just as the nether regions of pigs play a starring role at the meat factory, this bit of legislative legerdemain featured a certain porcine sphincter in the lead role.

Talkin’ to you, Mr. Ambassador.  

6 thoughts on “An ex-diplomat in a china shop

  1. We do have a bicameral legislature. Supporters of the bill would be well advised to pass it on third reading and send it to the House, where they may be able to fix what the Senate did. If Senator Galbraith has a serious point to make he might be able to work with House members in the committees of jurisdiction (presumably Judiciary and/or Health and Welfare) to improve it.

  2. The claim that his ‘concerns’ led him to this ‘alternate’ version is 100% weapons-grade bullonium.

    The Ayers bill required written documentation regarding the patient’s decision and several consultations.

    Galbraith’s ‘preferred’ method has ZERO documentation and eliminates accountability entirely.

    How is that better?  It isn’t, therefore it’s obviously intended to not be a serious bill, but a way to kill the whole thing in the Senate.  

  3. This bill is far from dead. The full Senate could pass Senator Galbraith’s amended bill. Were it to do so, the House could read Senator Galbraith’s bill for the first time and send it to committee. In the House committee the bill could be amended back to something closer to the original Death with Dignity version. Were the House committee to amend the Senate’s version of the bill and pass their amended version out of committee instead of Galbraith’s, the committee’s version of the bill would be the bill that could be voted on the House floor. If the amended House version of the bill passes the floor vote, the two disparate versions of the bill that passed the Senate and the House would have to be reconciled in conference committee. The leadership of the Senate and House would then be tasked with choosing three senators and representatives to the conference committee in order to reconcile the two differing versions. The conference committee could then debate and pass their own reconciled version of the two bills into law with just four supporting votes. Governor Shumlin could then sign the amended-amended-reconciled Death with Dignity bill into law. Ironically, Senator Galbraith’s attempted end-around of this bill could be responsible for creating this obscure pathway for Death with Dignity’s final passage through a divided Senate and into law.

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