Vermont Legislation Legalizing Assisted Suicide Won’t Get Vote

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 9, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Vermont Legislation Legalizing Assisted Suicide Won’t Get Vote

by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
January 9, 2004

Montperlier, VT ( — Legislation that would legalize assisted suicide in Vermont will not be considered in 2004. The heads of both the House and Senate Health and Welfare Committees said the bill will not be taken up this session.

Rep. Thomas Koch (R-Barre Town) told the House Committee that, while he was “personally sympathetic to some of the concepts” in the legislation, his counterpart in the Senate Committee, Sen. James Leddy (D-Chittenden), was personally opposed to it along with three other members of the Senate Committee.

"He said there’s no way the bill is going to go through the Senate," Koch said. "I don’t want to spend a lot of time on a bill that if it starts to move is going to draw rallies to the State House steps and cause an uproar, and then if it goes to the Senate is going to stand still."

In addition, Governor Jim Douglas (R) has made it clear he does not support the legislation, and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee stated he does not want to take up such a controversial issue if it’s not likely to become law.

Koch said that the two days of public hearings scheduled for February 4 and 5 will focus on end-of-life care issues instead of the pro-assisted suicide Death With Dignity Act.

Pro-life groups are delighted they won’t face have to fight what would have been a long, costly battle, but they understand the circumstances could change.

“I’m not convinced we are out of danger,” Mary Beerworth, Executive Director of Vermont Right to Life Committee. “The forces and money behind the bill are determined to pass it.”

Beerworth cautioned that there may be a “bigger battle” in next year’s legislative session. “The pro-life community will need to remain vigilant,” she concluded.

Euthanasia advocates are determined to press on legalize the grisly practice.

"Does it mean we give up? No," said Ron Reynolds, president of End of Life Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society. "We look forward to a wider understanding in the Legislature of how important this issue is all across Vermont."

Several major organizations have announced that they oppose the bill, including the Vermont Medical Society, the Vermont Center for Independent Living, the Vermont Right to Life Committee,  Burlington’s Catholic Diocese, and the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare.

More recently, the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, an advocacy group for the disabled, and the Vermont Visiting Nurses Association voiced their opposition to the pro-euthanasia legislation.

The Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights represents 26 Vermont disability rights groups, including Parent to Parent, the Association for Cerebral Palsy, the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the Center for Independent Living.

“While some would cast this issue as simply a matter of choice, or of pain management, the disability rights community has a historical perspective in which to set a context for such debates,” said Peter Youngbaer, the Coalition’s Director.

“The lives of people with disabilities have frequently been devalued down through history, Youngbaer continued. "Vermont’s own eugenics movement and sterilization of individuals with developmental disabilities are some of our least proud moments. They mirror similar histories around the world, including what went on in Germany during World War II.

“Many fear that creating an environment where a potential for encouraging someone to end their life — a life some perceive as having less value — would be creating a slippery slope,” Youngbaer explained. “Instead, why don’t we talk about improving the quality of life for people who are here?”

Meanwhile, the Burlington Free Press ran a half-page advertisement in Tuesday’s edition, listing the names of over 300 physicians and healthcare workers that supported the proposed assisted suicide legislation.

“I would encourage Vermonters to check out the ad and see if any of their own medical providers have signed on to this dangerous, life threatening concept,” cautioned Beerworth.

Oregon became the first state to legalize assisted suicide in 1994, and the proposed Vermont legislation was modeled after the Oregon law.

Howard Dean, the former Governor and a presidential candidate, recently indicated he supports assisted suicide.

Related web sites:
Vermont Right to Life –