Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed an anti-life bill Tuesday to allow anyone in the country to come kill themselves under the state assisted suicide law.
Until now, the 2013 law only allowed Vermont residents to request lethal drugs from a doctor to commit suicide.
The Catholic News Agency reports 10 states and Washington, D.C. allow doctor assisted suicide, but Vermont is the first to explicitly allow out-of-state residents to come there to kill themselves.
Responding Wednesday, Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington told CNA that people who are suffering deserve compassionate palliative care, not death.
“This holistic care focuses on the whole person — mind, body and spirit. Assisted suicide does not,” Coyne said.
The Vermont law allows adults “suffering from an incurable and irreversible disease” to request lethal drugs from a doctor if their life expectancy is six months or less. The law requires two witnesses to affirm that “the patient appeared to understand the nature of the document and to be free from duress or undue influence at the time the request was signed.”
But Catholic leaders, pro-life advocates and disability rights organizations say assisted suicide laws put pressure on suffering people to die – often people who are struggling to obtain good medical care and pain relief.
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Bishop Coyne told CNA there is a better option: “Palliative care provides relief from a variety of symptoms for people living with serious illnesses while addressing the spiritual and emotional concerns of individuals and their loved ones. … In a society in which we are dealing with an epidemic of loneliness, we need to be with those who are often alone in their suffering.”
In Vermont alone, at least 116 people died by assisted suicide since 2013, according to state Department of Health data. Most of them had cancer or ALS.
Hundreds of others have died in the past decade in Oregon, Washington, California and other states where the killing practice is allowed.
Last year, Oregon became the first state to allow non-residents to come there for assisted suicide when it agreed to stop enforcing its residency requirement in response to a lawsuit by the pro-assisted suicide group Compassion and Choices. However, the requirement has not been repealed from its law.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said at least two people, including one from Texas and another from the east coast, have died by assisted suicide in Oregon so far.
“Removing the residency requirement in Oregon and Vermont permits every American to die by assisted suicide and turns Oregon and Vermont into suicide tourist states,” Schadenberg said in March. “The assisted suicide lobby knows that many states will not legalize assisted suicide, so they are forcing states that have legalized assisted suicide to provide death to every American who is seeking one.”
Meanwhile, pro-life leaders and disability rights organizations are working hard to defend life from the growing threat. In April, four disability advocacy groups sued California, arguing its assisted suicide law discriminates against people who struggle with life-long ailments by treating their lives as less worthy of protection.
“Due to the many barriers to access I face as a black quad, I have been in some dark places – so dark that I had planned to die by assisted suicide,” said plaintiff Lonnie VanHook, a U.S. Navy veteran from Oakland, California, who suffered a spinal cord injury and is paralyzed from the neck down. “Thankfully, my personal relationship with a physician saved my life, but this law makes me feel like my life, as a disabled person, is seen as not worth living by so many in society, even though I have lived independently for decades.”