Euthanasia bill introduced in Legislature

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(Host) Opponents of the so called “death with dignity” bill say they will mount an aggressive campaign to defeat the legislation this session. They’re concerned that the proposal will be abused by a patient’s family, their doctor or their insurance company, but proponents of the legislation say these concerns are being greatly overstated.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) If a terminally ill patient is within months of death and is suffering a lot of pain, should that patient be able to ask their doctor for medication that would effectively terminate their life? This is one of the central questions surrounding legislation that was recently introduced at the Statehouse.

Chittenden Senator Ginny Lyons, who is the lead sponsor of the bill, believes that terminally ill patients have a right to decide when they want to die:

(Lyons) “This allows for patients to have control over their last days and to bring a calming influence to them when they are in extreme pain. What I think most value is that patients in extreme pain near the end of death have their own control over their own destiny.”

(Kinzel) The bill is strongly opposed by the Vermont Right to Life organization. The group’s legislative director, Mary Hawn Beerworth, notes that 38 states have passed laws prohibiting doctors from providing patients with life ending medications. Beerworth says the Vermont legislation will open the door to many abuses and she says frail elderly patients will be pressured into accepting a prescription for death:

(Beerworth) “Physician assisted suicide will begin with just a doctor prescribing a dose of lethal medication and will end with physicians taking lives in rapid order. That is what happens in Oregon. The abuses are beginning to surface and it’s quite terrifying what can happen to the most vulnerable members of our population – the elderly, the terminally ill, and those with disabilities who in fact will feel pressured and feel a duty to die and get out of the way.”

(Kinzel) Senator Lyons disagrees with this analysis. She believes proper safeguards can be put into place to protect patients from any forms of abuse:

(Lyons) “I have much more faith in the medical community than that. I think our code of ethics and our medical community is one that prevents abuse of this type of situation.”

(Kinzel) The measure is being reviewed by the Senate Health and Welfare committee.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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