Vermont Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide Has Huge Loopholes

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 24, 2011   |   6:28PM   |   Montpelier, VT

A bill has been introduced in the Vermont legislature to make the New England state the next to legalize assisted suicide and bioethics attorney Wesley J. Smith says the bill has huge loopholes causing big problems.

“American assisted suicide activists pretend that legalization is to be strictly controlled.  But the legislation they propose–and the laws they pass–contain loopholes big enough for a hearse to drive through,” he says in a post at his blog on First Things.

Smith says the proposed bill allows “a suicidal patient to designate a death doctor she has just met as the ‘attending physician.'”

“As we have seen in Oregon, many assisted suicides are facilitated by doctors the patients first met only weeks before their suicides.  In other words, it opens a whole field of practice that I think should be called Kevorkianism, because the intent isn’t treatment or palliation, but being made dead,” he explains. “These will usually be doctors with close affiliations with assisted suicide advocacy groups, as has happened in Oregon where Compassion and Choices (formerly, the Hemlock Society) facilitates the great majority of assisted suicides.”

The definition of terminal condition is also “loosely defined,” Smith notes, as “an incurable and irreversible disease which would, within reasonable medical judgment, result in death within six months.”

He responds: “Notice that there is nothing in the definition stating something like, “even with medical treatment.”  That means a diabetic who needs insulin could be considered terminally ill, since stopping treatment would generally mean death within six months. Similarly, a person who can’t swallow for whatever reason, who refuses a feeding tube, could be deemed terminally ill.”

The legislation purports to require mental health “counseling” but, in actuality, doesn’t do that because the counseling doesn’t require treatment — just an assessment.

“Think about it, not even a requirement for suicide prevention.  The destructive message sent by this kind of legislation is insidious, telling the terminally ill that their lives have less value than those of other suicidal people.  It corrupts medicine by turning doctors into death causers. And in times of medical resource constraints, it leads to the attitude that money is better not spent on treating the dying, but rather, in facilitating their suicides,” Smith says.

Smith also says the bill makes it so it is similar to Oregon and Washington, the first two states to legalize assisted suicide, in that “the standards of practice for death doctors are less than that of doctors treating diseases” because doctors “shall not be subject to criminal or civil liability for acting in good faith in the assisted suicides.

“Good faith is merely a motive.  Treating doctors have to meet proper standards of care regardless of motives.  But death is the agenda and nothing must be allowed to interfere or dissuade,” he concludes.