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Death With Dignity: Vermont House To Vote Amended Bill

The Vermont House will soon vote on a more stringent version of the Senate legislation known as “Death with Dignity.” The House legislation would grant physicians the ability to prescribe life-ending drugs to some terminally ill patients; however, the bill has more caveats, such as mandatory hospice enrollment.

Several weeks ago, the Senate whittled down its 22-page bill to just two pages, simply granting doctors immunity from prosecution for supplying life-ending drugs to any terminally ill patient with less than six months to live.

Vermont Death Act

But with a 7 to 4 vote, the House Human Services committee backed a new bill restoring much of the process the Senate version eliminated, such as the requirements for both oral and written requests, and a 48-hour waiting period before filling a prescription. Furthermore, it requires every prospective patient to have an advanced directive and be enrolled in hospice, VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

“We have all of the safeguards that they have in Oregon. We have a 15-year track record in Oregon with this law,” said Rochester Rep. Sandy Haas, a Democrat who helped overhaul the Senate’s bill.

Oregon mandates patients verbally request life-ending drugs to their physicians, followed by a 15-day waiting period and then another verbal request. Patients also must submit written requests. Then, they wait 48-hours before picking up the barbiturates.

“That bill was about doctors. The bill we passed this morning is about patients,” Haas said. “The Senate bill purports to be immunity for doctors for malpractice, basically for misprescribing, for confusing patients about what happens.”

Republican Rep. Anne Donahue from Northfield, said she worries the new version will make it easier for families to coerce loved ones into committing suicide. “A person can then wait a month or two or three or more before actually taking (the drugs),” Donahue said. “And at that point there’s absolutely no protection about coercion, family pressures, financial pressures and even whether a person still has the capacity to make that decision.”

Donahue said she favors how the Senate version limited the ability of the state to intervene once an individual committed to end his or her life. “I think that the direction that the Senate went made a huge amount of sense and didn’t have the intrusion on rights and the intrusion of the state actually sanctioning suicide,” Donahue said.

A possible vote is set for Tuesday. If passed, the bill would be kicked back to the Senate for a vote. This is the farthest this Oregon-style legislation has advanced in Vermont. Last year, a bill came before the full Senate, but it failed.