Vermont House Committee Approves Bill Legalizing Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 5, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Vermont House Committee Approves Bill Legalizing Assisted Suicide Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 5
, 2007

Montpelier, VT ( — At the end of last week, a Vermont state House committee advanced a bill that would make the state second to legalize assisted suicide. The bill moved forward despite opposition from pro-life groups, medical organizations and the disability rights community.

The House Human Services Committee voted 7-4 in favor of allowing assisted suicide. The committee first spent about a week hearing from a lengthy list of people on both sides of the debate.

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.

It is modeled after legislation in Oregon that made the West coast state the first to legalize the practice.

The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee, which must debate and vote on the proposal before it heads to the House floor.

Opponents were disappointed by the vote 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.

Before the vote, Rep. Anne Donahue, a Republican, said she opposed the bill and worried that the state would be saying some lives are more important than others.

"Do we want to make that message conditional based on circumstances?" she asked. "There’s so much more that we could be doing.

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 –