Vermont Bill Would Foster Palliative Care Versus Promoting Euthanasia

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 31, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Vermont Bill Would Foster Palliative Care Versus Promoting Euthanasia

by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
January 31, 2004

Montpelier, VT ( — While leaders in the state’s legislature say Vermont will not become the next state to legalize assisted suicide this year, opponents of the practice are using their time to further improved care of the terminally ill and dying.

The House Health and Welfare Committee has put together a committee bill on end of life care, in order to improve and establish a focus on advance directives, do not resuscitate orders, pain management, and palliative care education. Hearings will be held on February 4th and 5th on "end of life issues" by the committee.

"It is a major undertaking, and several of us from Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare are doing our best to assist in making this an excellent bill," said Dr. Robert Orr, founder of the organization. "This ‘silver lining’ is exactly what VAEH hoped would happen — rejection of physician assisted suicide and [promotion of] improved end-of-life efforts."

The Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare is joined in its opposition to the legalization of assisted suicide by several major organizations, including the Vermont Medical Society, the Vermont Center for Independent Living, the Vermont Right to Life Committee, Burlington’s Catholic Diocese, and most recently the Vermont Chapter of the American Cancer Society and the Hospice and Palliative Care Council of Vermont.

The Vermont Chapter of the American Cancer Society issued a statement that it "opposes all measures that would permit assisted suicide" because "it violates one of the most basic tenets of physician practice: Do no harm."

The Hospice and Palliative Care Council of Vermont has also stated recently that it opposes "any legislation either for or against physician assisted suicide," similar to the position of the Vermont Medical Association. However, their official position statement strongly supports improving palliative care.

It is believed by some members of the pro-life community that the opposition to assisted suicide from disability groups, such as the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, and the Vermont Center for Independent Living have been instrumental in the defeat of euthanasia advocates in Michigan, Maine, Hawaii, and for the time being, Vermont.

It certainly has not been a help groups like End of Life Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) that Vermont Governor Jim Douglas (R) 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.

According to Dr. Orr, Derek Humphrey, formerly of End of Life Choices, said that the pro-euthanasia organization pays $21,000 per month to 2 professional political advisors to further their cause, although he bemoans that "it hasn’t got them anywhere yet."

Though pro-euthanasia legislation seems to be dead in the legislature this time around, leading pro-life advocates remain on guard and watchful of any attempts to resurrect the effort.

"I’m not convinced we are out of danger," said 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.

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

Related web sites:
Vermont Right to Life –
Vermont Alliance for Ethical Health Care –