Aww, just when I thought we were rid of the guy, his tainted legacy comes back to haunt us.
I speak of the person formerly known as The Most Hated Man in the Senate, Peter Galbraith. In a building full of people convinced that their shit don’t stink, he stood out for his towering self-regard. He saw himself as a master lawmaker and deal-broker, when in fact he was an egotistical meddler always willing to block the process if he thought things could be done better.
By which I mean, of course, that things should be done the way he wanted them done.
One of his more notorious episodes is now making life more difficult for his former Senate colleagues, who now have to relitigate the aid-in-dying law because of a classic Galbraithian power play.
Back in the spring of 2013, after an exhaustive debate across multiple sessions, the state legislature was poised to enact a bill that would have allowed terminally ill patients to seek lethal medication under strictly controlled conditions. The version that passed the House was modeled on Oregon’s successful law.
The Senate vote was expected to be very close. And at a crucial moment, Galbraith and another guy I’m pleased to call “former Senator,” Bob Hartwell, forced a radical rewrite of the bill that basically stripped away all the controls and protections. Galbraith was the driving force behind the idea; he wanted aid-in-dying without any state controls. The idea appealed to no one else, but he refused to budge. In the end, a House-Senate conference committed settled on a Frankenstein monster of a bill that imposed Oregon-style protections at first, but is set to remove them in the year 2016.
It was a ridiculous bill, but it did get aid-in-dying onto the books. And by all accounts, it’s been a success so far: very few people have used it, and even fewer have actually taken a fatal dose, but it does provide a safety valve for those truly in extremis without posing any visible danger to anyone else.
It works. But because of the Galbraith-Hartwell maneuver, the bill has to be reopened this year. Otherwise, we’d enter a Wild West situation, as the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami outlines:
If the law is not changed, physicians will no longer be required to tell patients in person and in writing of their diagnosis, prognosis, range of treatment options, risks of taking medication and probable result of taking medication.
Nobody wants that. But thanks to Galbraith and Hartwell, the issue has to be reopened. This week, the Senate Health & Welfare Committee held a hearing on a bill that would continue the current protections beyond 2016. This has given opponents of aid-in-dying a second crack at killing the legislation. According to Goswami:
… opponents of Act 39 will look to repeal it and have allies in the Legislature who will sponsor amendments with that purpose when the legislation to keep the safeguards hits the Senate floor.
Great. We spent endless hours debating aid-in-dying and arrived at a substantial consensus. The resulting bill has worked as intended. But now, in a session already overloaded with contentious issues like the budget, taxes, Lake Champlain cleanup, education reform, and health care, we may have to live through a repeat of the 2013 debate.
And we have Peter Galbraith and his running buddy Bob Hartwell to thank for that. I really, really hope we’ve seen the last of those two assclowns.