Vermont Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide Dies Second Time

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 8, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Vermont Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide Dies Second Time Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 8, 2005

Montpelier, VT ( — A bill to legalize assisted suicide in Vermont has died for the second consecutive legislative session. A House committee held a hearing on the bill but dropped the issue when other lawmakers indicated its prospects were severely limited.

The House Human Services Committee held a public hearing and took two days worth of testimony, but lawmakers in favor of making Vermont the second state in the nation to legalize the practice will have to wait until next year.

The gavel fell on the legislative session on Saturday and lawmakers will be headed back to the state capital to deal with budget issues, but they won’t be taking up the assisted suicide measure.

When the bill came up in committee in April, Rep. Ann Pugh, a South Burlington Democrat who chairs it admitted she didn’t know if the bill would go anywhere.

"I don’t have any grand plan," Pugh told the Vermont Press Bureau. "That is something the committee will have to decide. We are taking this up because the committee wanted to."

House Human Services committee member Rep. Thomas Koch, a Republican, predicted his committee will hear testimony on the bill and then table it.

"I don’t think it will see action," he explained. "The indication Ann gave is we will have a hearing and then it goes back on the wall, same as it did last year."

Dr. Robert Orr, president of Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, said the bill could be brought up during the 2006 session, though he was confident he and other opponents have brought up significant enough concerns to slow it.

"I believe the hesitation in moving forward on a measure they support is because the legislators have taken seriously some of the concerns we have expressed," he said.

Orr said his group will work the rest of the year to be prepared for a possible fight on the bill next year.

Also in April, House Speaker Gaye Symington, a Democrat, said she has no plans to allow any debate on the assisted suicide bill on the House floor either this year or next.

A VPB story quotes her telling reporters the assisted suicide bill "is not something that will come to completion this biennium."

Senate leaders also indicated there was little chance the bill would make any progress there.

The legislation faces opposition still from leading state groups such as the Vermont Medical Society, the Vermont State Nurses Association and the Coalition for Disability Rights. Paul Harrington, executive director of the doctors’ group, says physicians in Vermont oppose assisted suicide by a two to one margin.

Governor Jim Douglas opposes the measure and, even if received approval from the legislature, he has indicated he would veto it.

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