Montpelier, Vermont — A legislative panel in Vermont has unanimously approved a bill that seeks to legalize assisted suicide in the state.
The Health and Welfare Committee of the Vermont Senate applauded the outcome of the vote, with Chairman Claire Ayer remarking that she was “pleased with the results.”
However, some who attended the recent hearing on the matter state that those opposed to the measure far outnumbered the supporters in the room. They believe that the committee failed to hear the voices of the people and voted as they pleased anyway.
“They’re really not listening,” remarked Mary Hahn Beeworth from the Vermont Right to Life.
“Clearly no one was listening, but it’s good testimony anyway, and Vermont legislators should have paid attention,” concurred the organization True Dignity. “Three [of our] board members … got two minutes each to speak, as did many other opponents. The common theme was that legalizing assisted suicide would have unintended consequences such as suicide contagion, elder abuse, the perception by sick people of a duty to die, expansion to euthanasia, expansion to the non-terminally ill and the incompetent, and a fundamental and corrupting change in the way both patients and doctors view the practice of medicine.”
Ed Paquin of the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights had also been invited to speak at the hearing. He was reportedly the only disabilities advocate that was a part of the meeting.
“Many people with disabilities understand the euphemism to convey that it is more dignified to die than to live in pain, or with a lack of mobility, or without the ability to self-care,” Paquin stated before the panel. “These are day-to-day factors in the lives of many people with disabilities, and the implication that our lives lack dignity adds to a stigma that is not only unwarranted but damaging.”
A supporter of the bill disagreed.
“If I were facing Alzheimer’s I would want to have the option of death with dignity,” they stated.
In passing the bill on to the Senate Judiciary Committee, who will hear testimony this week, legislators removed one requirement from the proposed law—that those desiring to die first seek out a palliative care specialist. Chairwoman Ayers said that the mandate would be too “burdensome” on those who wanted to end their lives.
If the vote passes in the full Senate, some state that it will likely be due to the undecided lawmakers in the state — all Democrats. Senators John Rodgers, Don Kollins, Chris Bray and Peter Galbraith are believed to be instrumental in determining the outcome of the bill.
Governor Peter Shumlin has long advocated for the legalization of assisted suicide in Vermont, pushing for its passage throughout his tenure.
“As governor, I will strongly champion death with dignity legislation,” he stated in 2010. “I have been a sponsor of this legislation for multiple years and I have a track record of bringing people together to get tough things done.”
He again mentioned his desire last November in outlining his 2013 agenda.
“I’m confident that regardless of who leads the various bodies in the legislature, that we can pass decriminalization of marijuana, death with dignity and the [unionization] bill for child care workers,” he said. “We’re going to get them done.”
Oregon and Washington are currently the only two states in the nation where assisted suicide is legal. Vermont has attempted to pass similar legislation in years past, but failed due to lack of support.