Vermont Again Defeats Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide

State   Steven Ertelt   Apr 12, 2012   |   6:24PM    Washington, DC

The Vermont legislature has defeated, for a second time this legislative session, an attempt to legalize assisted suicide — in what could have made the state the third in the nation other than Oregon and Washington to allow the practice.

After nearly three hours of debate on the latest effort on both the process and substance of legalizing assisted suicide in the Green Mountain State, the amendment was defeated on an 18-11 vote.

Anne Fox of Massachusetts Citizens for Life was watching the vote because of the ramifications it could have on her state, which is considering legalizing assisted suicides.

“A win in Vermont for DPS would probably have meant certain passage here,” she said. “Our folks in Vermont are amazing. We owe them a huge thanks.”

Vermont public radio provided more information on the debate:

The legislation was defeated on a procedural vote. The bill – modeled after a law in Oregon – had been attached to a bill that prohibits minors from using tanning beds. Bennington Senator Dick Sears chairs the Judiciary Committee, and he accused the backers of the bill of violating Senate rules.

“To hijack a bill out of committee is breaking the rules,” Sears said.  “If we want to continue to break the rules in this building there will be consequences for all of us.

But Windham Democrat Peter Galbraith said the bill deserved a vote, and that sometimes rules must be broken.

Officials with Vermont Right to Life, a statewide pro-life organization, provided LifeNews with details about the upcoming vote earlier this week.

“Tuesday, in a backhanded maneuver, pro-suicide Senators on the Health & Welfare Committee added language to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide to a bill (H. 157) that would prohibit the use of tanning facilities by minors,” VRTL explained. “This bill will come before the full Senate for a vote as early as Thursday, April 12th.”

“The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on doctor-prescribed suicide legislation in March, but the Committee was not persuaded to support the bill and declined to move it forward.  Since that time, advocates of assisted-suicide have been looking for an opportunity to get the issue before the full Senate for a vote,” the organization said.

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In March, according to a WPTZ report, the defeat came about in part because the Lieutenant Governor, who would break a tie vote in the Vermont Senate, has since changed his mind about supporting legalization.

Lt. Governor Phil] Scott supported “right to die” bill when it was last before lawmakers in 2004. He was even a co-sponsor. No longer. “I’ve changed my thinking a bit,” Scott told NewsChannel Five, and then quietly shares a family story. His late father, Howard, served in World War Two and was severely injured in the June, 1944 invasion at Normandy. Both is his legs had to be amputated. Howard was transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center outside Washington. “During that time he contracted hepatitis, the prognosis wasn’t good,” said Scott. “In fact, one of the Western Union messages I’ve since read) said ‘It doesn’t look good for Howard.’ They urged my Gram to come to Washington to see him. They didn’t think he was  going to make it.”

Scott has thought a lot about all that might have been different had his Dad utilized the option now before the state Legislature. “I thought about his life and all he’d done and all the pain and suffering he must have gone through during that period of time and had they asked him at that point, ‘Do you want to end your life?’ You know I am not sure what he would have done but had he done so, of course, the result is evident. I wouldn’t be here now.” Howard Scott recovered and returned home to Barre to raise a family. He died in 1969 when Phil was 11. The lieutenant governor said he has “firmly made up his mind” to vote ‘no’ on the end of life bill should he have the chance.

At the time, Mary Beerworth, the director of Vermont Right to Life, said the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on bill S. 103 saw opponents outnumber proponents by a three to one margin.

“Testimony was provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee by expert witnesses, while, the overflow crowd of opponents of the legislation filled the hallways,” she said. “A press conference was held immediately following the Judiciary Committee hearing in the Cedar Creek Room led by physicians and other medical personnel who are members of the advisory board of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare.”

“Following the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing held this past week, the Committee Chair, Senator Dick Sears had intended to hold an up or down vote today on whether or not S. 103 (the bill that would legalize doctor-prescribed suicide) would pass out of committee and eventually head for a floor vote,” added the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare. “Sen. Sears announced to the full Senate this afternoon that S 103 will not be coming out of his committee this session.  The only way it could move is to attach it to another bill which is possible, but difficult.”

“I think the Vermont legislature will not be in session in time to bring this up before Massachusetts votes on Nov 6th.  This is a huge victory for the Alliance in Vermont and a huge obstacle we have dodged,’ it added.

Wesley J. Smith, a bioethics attorney, commented on the consequences of the defeat of the measure.

“I have heard and witnessed many such stories,” he said of Scott’s decision. “For example, my first hospice patient wanted to die right away when I first met him, and would have surely taken the pills if they could have been prescribed, he was so distraught at being a burden.  Yet, a few months later he was kicked out of hospice because his condition improved.”

“The last patient I helped as a hospice volunteer died of ALS.  He told me that had he been able to get to Kevorkian, he would have.  Later, he was so glad to be alive.  Another friend of mine with lung cancer spread to the brain was given three months to live–twelve years ago–and he’s still going strong,” he added. “Assisted suicide doesn’t just kill bodies, it destroys all hope.  And in a world in which assisted suicide was legal and relatively routine, at least some would die, never knowing they would have lived–as the assisted suicide pushers patted themselves on the back for their supposed compassion.”