With Governor Peter Shumlin’s signature on a bill the state legislature approved, Vermont today becomes the third state after Oregon and Washington to legalize assisted suicide.
Shumlin signed a bill today legalizing physician-assisted suicide for patients deemed to have a “terminal condition.” The move immediately drew opposition from leading pro-life groups.
The new legislation “lays the foundation for deadly acts disguised as ‘care,’” noted Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest. “Physician-assisted suicide does not affirm the life or dignity of individuals facing serious illness or death. Instead, it opens the door to abuses and dangers for extremely vulnerable individuals.”
“This legislation provides incentives for physicians and even family members to pressure vulnerable people into dying for the convenience of others,” she said.
AUL’s legal team noted that the law fails to include some of the most basic legal protections for those considering physician-assisted suicide.
The organization told LifeNews that a physician who has only examined a patient one time is permitted to prescribe life-ending drugs to the patient. Further, the physician is not required to refer the patient for an evaluation by a psychiatrist to determine if the patient is depressed or being coerced to end his or her life. The law also does not require witnesses to be present when the patient takes a life-ending medication, increasing the possibility that persons who may wish to hasten a patient’s death might be with the patient and pressure the patient to end his or her life or even administer the drugs themselves.
“America has prided itself in affirming the worth and dignity of the elderly and disabled,” observed Yoest. “This kind of law undermines the humanity of the vulnerable, encouraging a cost-analysis approach to life rather than affirming the humanity of the sufferer.”
Nora Sullivan of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute said Vermont is the first state to decriminalize assisted suicide through the legislative process.
“The bill states that a qualifying patient must be at least 18, a Vermont resident and suffering from an incurable and irreversible disease, with less than six months to live. Two physicians, including the prescribing doctor, must make that medical determination,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan added: “Advocates for assisted suicide argue that giving terminally ill patients the option of ending their lives medically is the most compassionate option and argue for its safety and ethicality. However, as pointed out by Jacqueline Harvey, Ph.D., physician-assisted suicide can lead to serious and unforeseen harm. There is real concern that the legalization of physician-assisted suicide can lead to the denial of palliative care coverage and adverse impact on the disabled. Dr. Harvey also points out that there is a real concern about terminally ill patients being coerced into choosing suicide for financial reasons or convenience’s sake. ”
The American Medical Association has also remained firm in its opposition to physician-assisted suicide. Regarding the issue, the AMA states, “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”
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Dr. Edward Mahoney, President of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, stated, “Democrats and Republicans, medical professionals and disability rights advocates have consistently come together to oppose this ill-conceived and misguided public policy.” He adds, “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.”
Sullivan hopes assisted suicide doesn’t expand further.
“It is to be hoped that physicians in Vermont will remain committed to the well-being of their patients and not their destruction. The American people must discourage attempts to legalize this ethically problematic policy and instead work for ever-improving care for the terminally ill and recognition of the dignity of every human person until natural death,” she concluded.
ACTION: Contact Governor Shumlin to complain at http://governor.vermont.gov/contact-us