Vermont physicians and other health care workers who don’t want to offer suicide as a legitimate option to their patients say they are exploring their legal options in the wake of a federal court’s decision Wednesday to dismiss their lawsuit against Vermont officials in two state agencies.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and ADF-allied attorney Michael Tierney represent the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Christian Medical and Dental Association, groups of medical professionals who wish to abide by their oath to “do no harm.”
“Vermont health care workers just want to act consistently with their reasonable and time-honored convictions without fear of government punishment,” said ADF Senior Counsel Steven H Aden, who argued before the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont in November of last year in Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare v. Hoser. “Because we believe they face a very real conflict in this situation, our clients are seriously considering all of their legal options.”
The state agencies, the Board of Medical Practice and the Office of Professional Regulation, are reading the state’s assisted suicide law to require health care professionals, regardless of their conscience or oath, to provide patients with information on doctor-prescribed death as an option. Although Act 39, Vermont’s assisted suicide bill, passed with a very limited protection for attending physicians who don’t wish to dispense death-inducing drugs themselves, state medical licensing authorities have construed a separate, existing mandate to counsel and refer for “all options” for palliative care to include a mandate that all patients hear about the “option” of assisted suicide.
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As the brief in support of the requested motion for preliminary injunction in Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare v. Hoser explains, “Vermont’s Act 39 makes the State the first and only one to mandate that all licensed healthcare professionals counsel terminal patients about the availability and procedures for physician-assisted suicide, and refer them to willing prescribers to dispense the death-dealing drug. Act 39 coerces professionals to counsel patients about the ‘benefits’ of assisted suicide—benefits that Plaintiffs’ members do not believe exist—and in addition stands in opposition to a federal law protecting healthcare professionals who cannot participate in assisted suicide for conscientious reasons.”
“Because Plaintiffs’ attempts to repeal or amend the law have proven futile, and enforcement is imminent,” the brief continues, “Plaintiffs…[ask] for a preliminary injunction enjoining Defendants from enforcing the provisions of Act 39…and its incorporated statutes…against their members for declining to counsel or refer patients diagnosed with ‘terminal conditions’ on the availability of physician-assisted suicide.”
“The government shouldn’t be telling health care professionals that they must violate foundational medical ethics in order to practice medicine,” said Aden before the ruling. “Because the state has no authority to order them to act contrary to that reasonable and time-honored conviction, we are asking the court to allow this lawsuit to proceed and to ensure that no state agency is able to force them to violate their ethics while this lawsuit moves forward.”