Montpelier, Vermont – The governor of Vermont has signed legislation legalizing assisted suicide, making the state the fourth in the nation to allow terminally ill patients to be granted the “right to die.”
Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin signed the “Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act” into law on Monday, a deed that he has vowed to perform for years.
“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.”
On Monday, Shumlin repeated his belief that legalizing assisted suicide is beneficial for residents in the state.
“Vermonters who face terminal illness and are in excruciating pain at the end of their lives now have control over their destinies,” he stated. “This is the right thing to do.”
As previously reported, the bill passed the Senate earlier this month, albeit with a narrow margin of 17-13. It later passed the House in a similarly tight vote of 75-65.
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 outlines.
For the first three years following its enactment, patients will be required to present a death wish three times before being granted the lethal medication, and a physician must attest that the individual is able to make sound decisions for themselves. The Health Department must also enact regulations surrounding the performance of physician-assisted suicide.
“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, Gerald McMurray of True Dignity Vermont said that he was ashamed that the bill is now part of state law.
“This, in our opinion, is a terrible thing to have happen to our state … because it sort of sanctions suicide as a way of dealing with many end-of-life health care issues,” he said.
As previously reported, pro-life groups in the state likewise decried the measure when it was first introduced last fall.
“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,” Ed Paquin of the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights told a legislative panel in February. “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.”
Vermont now becomes the fourth state to legalize physician-assisted suicide following Oregon, Washington and Montana. Assisted suicide was permitted in Montana through the courts, however, as opposed to a vote in the legislature.
Other similar proposals have failed in New England, such as in Maine, where the Health and Human Services Committee overwhelmingly rejected legislation this month 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.