Vermont Legislature Begins Debate on Legalizing Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 23, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Vermont Legislature Begins Debate on Legalizing Assisted Suicide Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 23
, 2007

Montpelier, VT ( — The debate is back on the contentious issue of assisted suicide. The Vermont legislature is again considering a bill that would make the New England state the second in the country after Oregon to legalize the grisly practice.

The House Human Services Committee held a hearing on a bill on Friday with one key proponent and one leading opponent each giving their perspective.

Barbara Roberts, who was governor of Oregon when residents there voted for assisted suicide in 1994 spoke in favor of the bill.

But Dr. Robert Orr, president of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and a Brattleboro doctor, spoke against the measure. He said the state should do more to promote proper health care and treatment for the die than encouraging their deaths.

"Currently available methods will alleviate pain in those who are dying," he said.

Orr also told the panel that a bill could lead to a greater practice of killing disabled or elderly patients than used under the law and said more deaths could be happening in Oregon than the state is reporting.

"We cannot determine whether physician-assisted suicide is being practiced outside the framework of the Death with Dignity Act," he said.

The bill in question would allow terminally ill patients whose physicians say they have less than six months to live to request a lethal dose of barbiturates that they could use to kill themselves.

The Human Services Committee will take more testimony on the bill next week and will likely vote on it by the end of the week.

Chairwoman Ann Pugh told the Burlington Free Press newspaper she thinks there’s enough support on the panel to pass the bill and send it on. The House Judiciary Committee would also debate and vote on the bill before it goes to the full House for its consideration.

Sen. Doug Racine, a Democrat, told the newspaper he wants the bill to get to the Senate so it can be debated in his committee, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

But even if the state legislature ultimately approves the bill, it may not become law because Gov. Jim Douglas opposes it and previously said he would veto any bill to legalize assisted suicide.

"We agreed to disagree," he told the Free Press about his meeting with Roberts about the bill.

Pro-life groups have joined disability rights organizations and the Vermont Medical Society in opposing the bill. The medical group doesn’t oppose assisted suicide either but says no law should be passed on the topic.

But the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights said the bill would protect doctors and insurance companies when an assisted suicide goes wrong rather than looking out for the best interests of patients.

Vermont Right to Life also strongly opposes the bill and its director worries that a week to debate the measure is too little.

"This is not a simple little bill," Mary Hahn Beerworth told AP. "This is a sea change in public policy."

Related web sites:
Vermont legislature –
Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare –
Vermont Right to Life –