Montpelier, Vermont — A bill making allowance for physician-assisted suicide has passed the Vermont Senate, sending the measure now to the House for a vote.
Senate passage of the Patient Choice and Control and End of Life Act was narrow, a 17-13 vote. The legislation “require[s] a patient to get two physicians to diagnose terminal illness — defined as six months or less to live. The patient would need to be mentally competent, over the age of 18 and able to swallow their own medication.”
“The request for lethal medication must be both verbal and written, and there needs to be two witnesses, one of whom can not be a family member,” it states.
“Death is scary to Americans,” Peg Sandeen of the Death with Dignity National Center told reporters. “They think of it as avoidable and don’t want to talk about it. People use that fear to stop legislation.”
However, Dr. Edward Mahoney of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare decried the measure.
“Democrats and Republicans, medical professionals and disability rights advocates have consistently come together to oppose this ill-conceived and misguided public policy,” he wrote in a statement following Senate passage of the Act. “This latest bill version is an unrestricted physician assisted suicide hodgepodge and represents the worst of both worlds; a huge and negative shift in public policy and the way Vermont approaches people with serious illness or disability. It is Oregon-style assisted suicide 2.0.”
Other similar proposals have failed in New England, such as in Maine, where the Health and Human Services Committee overwhelmingly rejected legislation this week by a vote of 10 to 2. Voters in Massachusetts also struck down a ballot initiative last November, which would have also legalized “right to die” efforts.
As previously reported, the Vermont Senate Committee initially approved the legislation last fall despite much opposition from pro-life groups in the state.
“Clearly no one was listening, but it’s good testimony anyway, and Vermont legislators should have paid attention,” remarked that 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.”
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.