Committee expected to approve ‘patient choice’ bill

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(Host) This week, the House Committee on Human Services is expected to give its approval to a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives by taking a prescribed medication.

The committee’s action will be a victory for the bill’s supporters.

Last session, a similar bill never made it out of committee.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Last session, the legislation was called Death With Dignity. This time around the bill is titled Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life.

The name may be different but Republican Representative Anne Donahue of Northfield who serves on the Human Services Committee says her reservations are the same.

Donahue says she’s a strong advocate for patient choice but she’s concerned that without improvements to availability and access for other end of life care options, the choice to take their own life will be the only option for some people.

(Donahue) “If we’re talking about choice, if that’s where we’re going, then it better be about all the choices. And it’s clear from the testimony we don’t have other choices. We don’t have enough palliative care, we don’t have enough hospice available. We don’t have the medical training for doctors to even know the choices.”

(Michael Fisher) “We do need to do a better job of palliative care.”

(Zind) Democratic committee member Michael Fisher of Lincoln says he supports the bill. Fisher says he doesn’t want to deprive people of the ability to make a very personal decision.

(Fisher) “As I sit here, a healthy person, I can’t judge them. I have to honor that they’re having a different kind of experience and that there are different paths out of this world and that that’s ok.”

(Zind) Fisher cites statistics from Oregon which indicate that in 8 years a relatively small number of people took advantage of the ability to end their lives.

Fisher says he’s satisfied that the bill has numerous safeguards to prevent it from being abused.

Oregon is the only state that has enacted legislation like that being considered in Vermont.

The bill will likely move next to the House Judiciary Committee.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind in Montpelier.

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