Vermont Passes Law Legalizing Assisted Suicide

May 22, 2013 - 9:18 AM
Vermont-Assisted Suicide

Gov. Peter Shumlin signs the end-of-life bill at the statehouse in Montpelier, Vt. on Monday, May 20, 2013. Vermont is now the fourth state in the country that allows physician assisted suicide. (AP Photo/The Burlington Free Press, Glenn Russell)

(CNSNews.com) - Vermont became the fourth state on Monday to legalize the use of lethal injection on terminally ill patients.

The bill, signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), allows competent patients who face a terminal illness and debilitating pain to seek a prescription of lethal injection to end their lives.

The Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act, which passed the state House on May 13 by a vote of 75-65, made Vermont the fourth state with assisted suicide measures, or euthanasia, but only the first state to do so through the legislative process. Washington and Oregon did so through ballot initiatives, and it became legal in Montana through a ruling from its Supreme Court in 2009.

Shumlin, who is also the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, emphasized that the law “does not compel anyone to do anything that they don't choose in sound mind to do,” the Associated Press reported.

He added that the newly signed law gives those facing terminal illness and extreme pain “a choice in a very carefully regulated way.”

Shumlin said the law “is the right thing to do,” according to MSNBC.

The patient must be a Vermont resident, at least 18 years old, and suffering from an “incurable and irreversible disease” that gives them less than six months to live.

The patient must request the measure three times – twice orally and once in writing to witnesses and through two separate physicians, including one that would prescribe the deadly medication.

The bill states the patient must also be informed of all other options for end of life services, “including palliative care, comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.” It also “bars hospitals from requiring that employees be willing to use it as a condition of employment,” according to a lifenews.com article.

However, by July 1, 2016, many of these restrictions will be removed and will be reliant on professional medical standards on administering end-of-life medications.

Supporters were pleased with the law’s passage and that it was approved through the legislative process.

“This historic achievement is a political breakthrough that will boost support for death-with-dignity bills nationwide,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee.

The Death with Dignity National Center declared the move a “historic step forward.” The law was modeled after what already exists in Washington and Oregon.

"We applaud the lawmakers in Vermont for taking a bold step toward expanding end-of-life options for terminally ill Vermonters," said Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Death with Dignity National Center.

Opponents of the measure expressed concern about the possibility of abuse, and even one hospital said they were not prepared to carry out the law. “We’re not ready,” said Laural Ruggles, spokeswoman for the Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury.

Dr. Edward Mahoney, president of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, an organization opposed to the bill, slammed the measure as “an unrestricted physician assisted suicide hodgepodge” that “represents the worst of both worlds; a huge and negative shift in public policy and the way Vermont approaches people with serious illness or disability.”

He then declared the bill “Oregon-style assisted suicide 2.0."

Mahoney said that his organization will try to protect Vermonters from possible abuse of the law if Vermont will not, according to Reuters.

He added that his group will “address the concerns of patients and try to help alleviate the pressures that are causing them to feel they have no other choice.”

Another organization that’s spoken out against the bill, True Dignity Vermont, was also disappointed with the results but similarly began to reposition themselves as a watchdog against potential abuses.

According to NECN, True Dignity Vermont “has launched a toll-free hotline at 1-855-787-5455, asking Vermonters to report suspected cases of patients being pressured or influenced into taking lethal doses of drugs.”