Vermont Senate Debates End-Of-Life Bill; Fate Still Uncertain

May 7, 2013

After a lengthy debate that got personal at times, the Vermont Senate on Tuesday postponed final action on a bill that allows terminally ill patients to get a doctor’s prescription to end their lives.

The bill has divided the Senate evenly for months. And Tuesday night, the deep divisions continued. Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott, an opponent of the legislation, cast the deciding vote to defeat an amendment that supporters said was needed to restore some protections in the bill.

Addison Senator Claire Ayer tried to convince her colleagues to approve language that moved the bill closer to one adopted by the House. The House bill is modeled after a law in Oregon. And Ayer said her amendment contained the same ideas as the Oregon law.

"The concepts are the same, Mr. President," she said. "We’re looking for patient protections, patient choice, making sure that people who don’t want to participate don’t, and keeping track, keeping good records so we can tell how it’s working."

But Rutland Republican Peg Flory said the bill put the state in a position of allowing suicide.

"The protections here, I’m afraid, are more illusions," Flory said. "What the bill does is the simple Oregon version. It gets the state interfering, state sanctioning, suicide."

The debate got heated at times as senators went over familiar philosophical and moral arguments. Windsor Democrat Dick McCormack accused opponents of finding differing and contradictory reasons for fighting the bill.

"The initial opposition was there are dangers," McCormack said. "There are too many dangers. What if this happens, what if that happens, etc And Oregon responded to that with safeguards. And we heard here the Oregon safeguards are fake, they’re not strong enough. There’s too much danger, the safeguards aren’t strong enough. And the next day we heard we don’t need any safeguards."

Those comments drew a rebuke from Bennington Democrat Dick Sears. He said different senators had different reasons for opposing the bill.

"People have different reasons to oppose this that may not be all the same," Sears said. "Did that ever occur to some of you? There are many reasons 13 of us have consistently opposed this. ... It is not because we’re stupid. It is not because we don’t understand the issues."

The debate continues Wednesday, when the Senate will again take up amendments in an effort to reach a compromise.