Vermont Legislature Holds Hearing on End-Of-Life Care

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 10, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Vermont Legislature Holds Hearing on End-Of-Life Care

by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
February 10, 2004

Washington, DC ( — Since the Vermont Legislature will not be taking up legislation that would legalize assisted suicide, the hearings for the state’s "Death with Dignity" bill last week were instead devoted to discussion of end-of-life care.

However, some of the speakers still advocated the legalization of the practice.

"We must remember here we are talking about people who are dying — who have a terminal illness — who have less then six months to live — death is certain — suffering need not be – peace of mind should be," said Dr. Diana Barnard of Middlebury.

But the focus of the hearings — and of pro-life organizations in the area — was on improving end of life care instead of advocating death for the elderly and disabled.

"Many people think they need assistance in dying when what they really need is good palliative care. As a society we need to be very cautious that people’s lives are not ended prematurely when the potential for comfortable meaningful life is present," said Dr. Zail Berry who works at Fletcher Allen Health Care.

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.

"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 has been 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.

After assisted suicide advocates bagn pushing a bill to legalize the grisly practice, Vermont’s Catholic Bishop Kenneth Angell delivered an 8,000-signature petition to Gov. Jim Douglas asking him to oppose doctor-assisted suicide. Gov. Douglas all but promised a veto.

"We’re very concerned about this whole issue," said Angell. "We believe life is in the hands of God. He creates, and he takes away. And it’s up to him to do that and not for us to do it."

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 –