Activist In Action: Bob Ullrich in Vermont
Bob Ullrich has known four people who took their own lives after receiving a diagnosis of incurable illness, shocking and saddening family members who weren't even allowed a final farewell. In addition, three family members have died of cancer, in less-than-ideal conditions. "When it happens in your family, you see it firsthand," he says. "We have to come to grips with these tragic circumstances."
A relative newcomer to the movement, Bob jumped in with both feet about a year and a half ago. Not yet a member of Compassion & Choices but a known supporter, he was approached by a delegation from the Vermont chapter and asked to become its next president. He was excited about helping to pass Vermont's assisted-dying bill -- and having just retired for the second time from University of Vermont, where he is a professor emeritus in biological sciences, Bob figured he had the time.
He may have been mistaken! Since assuming the presidency of a chapter in the thick of a legislative campaign, Bob estimates that he has contributed between 2,000-3,000 hours to the cause, including some 120-hour weeks during the legislative session. "The problem I have is that I always conceive of additional things that can be done because I really want to see this legislation passed," he says.
He isn't alone. Vermont's assisted-dying bill is truly a grassroots effort. A group of volunteers who wanted to pass the bill approached End-of-Life Choices three years ago, became a chapter and began their work. The bill was first introduced in 2002, and though it did not proceed very far it did receive public testimony. Bob was one of the many who volunteered to testify.
This year, the bill earned a referral to the House Human Services Committee, where it now waits for a hearing. The Vermont legislature has a two-year session, so the session that resumes in January 2006 is part of the same biennium. Bob and the Vermont chapter members are optimistic about the bill's chances in committee, even now working on a postcard campaign that has garnered about 4,000 signatures.
"The testimony the bill received in the Human Services Committee was incredibly good," Bob says. "We were able to answer the opposition's accusations -- they really try to obfuscate the message." He also says, "An overwhelmingly positive legislative council report on the Oregon law was a masterstroke making the bill much more likely to pass should it reach the House floor."
Passing an assisted-dying bill like Vermont's is a massive undertaking, but Bob and the Vermont chapter are up to the challenge. Bob, in particular, is passionate about making sure their efforts pay off. "Sometimes I feel this is too much for me to do," he admits. "But I think I have to see it to fruition."
This article was provided by Compassion & Choices. It is a part of the publication Compassion & Choices Magazine.