Last week, Vermont state senators, both Democrats and Republicans, in an orderly, professional way, debated and voted on S.77, the controversial so-called “death with dignity” bill. They did so while presenting impassioned and compelling arguments.
Fifteen Democrats and Republicans joined to pass an amended version. They rejected the approach patterned after Oregon, a state that by citizen vote, allowed “physician-assisted suicide” since 1997. Instead of journeying the “Oregon Trail,” Vermonters, as they often independently do, went down their own road and the result was a good and compassionate alternative.
While improving care for a dying person, it also protects those at the side of the patient when they die. It allows a dying patient’s physician to aggressively treat symptoms, primarily pain, without fear that, if the patient dies, they will be wrongfully accused of intentionally aiding in suicide.
The passed bill does not allow the physician immunity to prescribe drugs for the purpose of suicide. Gov. Peter Shumlin and the lead senator on the bill, Claire Ayer from Addison, unhappy with the results, made misleading and false statements. The governor publicly said it creates a “wild, wild West” situation. Sen. Ayer, in the same radio interview, wrongly claimed that a dying patient can ask a physician for the purpose of dying, for a lethal prescription, and the physician would have immunity if the patient uses the drugs to cause their death.
A caller (me) challenged her on that assertion, and she backed away from it.
ROBERT L. ORLECK
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