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Vermont Statehouse Votes ‘Death With Dignity’

The Vermont Senate Health and Welfare committee unanimously approved the bill known as “Death with Dignity,” which would allow some terminally ill patients to end their lives with prescription barbiturates, Vermont Public Radio reports.

More than 300 people gathered in the Vermont Statehouse Tuesday to voice opinions on the proposed “Death with Dignity.” The law would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with prescription drugs.

Patients expected to live no longer than six months or less could be given a prescription for a lethal dose of barbiturates. Two physicians are needed to agree upon life expectancy.  Patients also must declare their wish to die three times, once in writing, within a 15-day period.

The joint session of the Senate Health and Welfare and Judiciary committees heard testimony from both sides of the issue. The Judiciary committee has not yet voted.

Judy Murphy, who still mourns the loss of a friend who she said starved herself to death to end her suffering, came to support the act. “Not everyone would make that choice to die. But many, including myself, would have great comfort in knowing that that option is possible,” Murphy said. “She should have had the choice of death with dignity,” WCAX reports.

“The bill simply offers end-of-life choice,” said another supporter, William Wilson. “Its presence alone is comforting,” USA Today reports.

Lynn Caulfield, a registered nurse, disagreed. “It is a sad day in Vermont when our lawyers are asking health care professionals to help human beings to die rather than extending compassionate and respectful care to ease pain and suffering,” she said.

The act still needs to pass the House and Senate before being sent to Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin for approval.

Earlier on Tuesday, Vermont Public Radio reported the Senate Health and Welfare Committee heard from Attorney General Bill Sorrell and former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, both support the bill.

Some opponents of the act say they fear suicide’s definition will change, including Guy Page from Barre. He asked his twenty-something son, who he said struggled with suicidal thoughts as a teenager, about his thoughts on the bill.

“His response shocked me. Shaking with anger and fear he said ‘What hypocrites. Everyday my teachers tell me that killing myself is never an option. But here they are saying that suicide is ‘okay’,” Page said.

In November, Massachusetts voted against allowing physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients. Question 2, known as “Death with Dignity,” faced strong opposition from prominent physicians and the Roman Catholic Church.

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Oregon and Washington.

Last year, a bill came before the full Vermont Senate, but it failed.