(Host) Vermont’s disabled community is strongly divided over what is known as the "Death with Dignity" bill. Some groups oppose the legislation because they feel disabled people will be under pressure to take their own lives. Backers of the bill argue this has not been the experience in Oregon – the one state that has a similar law in place.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) A group of advocates for several disabled organizations gathered in the office of Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie on Wednesday afternoon to discuss legislation that would allow physicians to help people with terminal illnesses to end their lives.
The bill would allow people who’ve been diagnosed with less than six months to live, to request a dose of lethal medication from their doctor. The patient would have to be found to be medically competent and they would have to make the request in writing.
Deborah Lisi-Baker is the director of the Vermont Center for Independent Living. She says her organization has some very strong concerns about the bill.
(Lisi-Baker) "We’re also concerned that there’s still enough stigma and bias and misunderstanding about disability, even among the health profession, that we’re very very concerned that people may be guided towards physician assisted suicide when other options are available. It’s a gray line what represents a terminal illness."
(Kinzel) Richard Erickson of Burlington has ALS – or Lou Gehrig’s disease and he’s blind. He doesn’t share Lisi-Baker’s concerns. Erickson notes that none of the 208 people in Oregon who have used this process over the last seven years has been disabled.
(Erickson) "So this is just going to give an awful lot of folks the comfort of having another choice. And to think that people are going to be rushed off for euthanasia or done away with because of the expense of it all, it’s just pure nonsense."
(Kinzel) Lt. Governor Dubie says that while he personally opposes the bill, he hopes Vermonters will continue to discuss it with respect for all opinions.
(Dubie) "I don’t support this bill. But I do support a continued dialogue of trying to address this issue, and acknowledge that people who disagree with me – they’re motivated from compassion. And that’s a good thing."
(Kinzel) The House Human Services Committee is taking testimony all week on the bill. It’s not clear if the panel will actually vote on the legislation before adjournment.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.