Senate Extends Law Allowing Terminally Ill To Request Life-Ending Drugs

Mar 11, 2015

The Vermont Senate has voted to extend the state law that allows terminally ill people to request medication from their doctors to end their lives.

During the course of its debate, the Senate rejected an effort to completely repeal the law, which its supporters refer to as "death with dignity" and opponents call "physician assisted suicide."

When lawmakers passed the legislation in 2013, it included a compromise plan that put one set of specific regulations in place until 2016. And if the Legislature failed to extend these rules before that deadline, then virtually all of them would be eliminated.

The rules include provisions that supporters say ensure that a terminally ill patient is voluntarily seeking medication to end his or her life. But opponents argue that these rules still make it possible for family members to coerce a person to choose to die. The opponents wanted to repeal the entire law.

Franklin Sen. Norm McAllister spoke in favor of repeal. "I don't think this bill is necessary,” he said. “I think it sends a real bad message out there that we are letting government get involved with decisions that need to be personal.”

"I don't think this bill is necessary. I think it sends a real bad message out there that we are letting government get involved with decisions that need to be personal." - Sen. Norm McAllister

Rutland senator Peg Flory argued that it's inappropriate for government to be involved in this issue. "I think it's bad policy when the state tells people that that should be a viable alternative, that some lives you ought to consider ending it. So I support repeal,” she said.

After debate at a Senate Hearing on Wednesday, the Senate defeated the repeal amendment 18 to 12.
Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR

But supporters of extending the current law, including Windsor Sen. Dick McCormack, argued that the legislation gives terminally ill patients some important rights. "Should the government make that decision, ‘no you cannot do this?’ Or should it be up to the individual … this Legislature chose to respect the autonomy of dying people," he said.

Addison Sen. Claire Ayer is the chairwoman of the Senate Health Care committee. She said there's no evidence that the law has been misused by the six people who have requested life-ending medication. "So I would urge you all to vote against the repeal,” she said. “Many of your constituents are relying on this or the idea of this bill. The law is working well, it's being implemented carefully, gradually and without any hints of coercion, abuse or haste and it's time to move on from this debate." 

"The law is working well, it's being implemented carefully, gradually and without any hints of coercion, abuse or haste and it's time to move on from this debate." - Sen. Claire Ayer

The Senate defeated the repeal amendment by a vote of 18 to 12. The Legislation will come up for final approval in the Senate on Thursday.