Death With Dignity Bill May Not Go To Full Senate

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(Host) One of the most contentious bills at the Statehouse right now would allow terminally ill patients to get medication from a doctor to end their lives.

Death with dignity, or physician-assisted suicide, is currently being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it may not make it to the full Senate floor.

VPR’s Samantha Fields has more.

(Fields) The end of life bill has come up often in recent years, but it hasn’t gotten very far at the Statehouse. The last time it made it to the floor was in 2007 – then, it was voted down by the House.

It’s a highly emotional issue,  on both sides.

(Sears) "To me it’s a vote of conscience. Whether or not I think something’s right or wrong."

(Fields) Senator Dick Sears chairs the Judiciary Committee. That’s where the bill is currently being considered.

(Sears) "A lot of times bills are votes based upon what I think my constituents want, or what’s best for the state of Vermont, what’s best for my region, etc, etc. This is one, clearly a vote of conscience."

(Fields) Sears does not support the bill.

But this week, he decided that the committee should hear testimony.

Governor Shumlin was a big part of the reason. He supports the bill, and he says he’d like to see the legislature hold a full debate.

(Shumlin) "I would hope they would, yes. I think it’s an important issue, and I’ve encouraged Senate leadership to hold a vote."

(Fields) But just because the Judiciary Committee heard testimony, does not mean it will send the bill to the floor.

Right now, Sears does not think there’s enough support to advance the legislation.

(Sears) "It’s doubtful that it can get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a positive vote. I believe that there are still three members of the committee, myself included, who oppose the bill. I think they’ve been fairly public about that. And there are two members, Senator Snelling and Senator White, who are sponsors of the bill, so I assume they still support the bill."

(Fields) Senator Diane Snelling does support the bill, and she’d like to see it voted on in the Senate. She says it’s about giving people who are already dying some choice over how it happens.

(Snelling) "This isn’t something you do on impulse. There is a very specific chain of events that you have to go through. And I think for a lot of people, the comfort of knowing they have this choice is sufficient to give them comfort."

(Fields) But there’s also a lot of opposition to the bill,  and it’s unclear whether it has enough support in the Senate to pass.

For VPR News, I’m Samantha Fields.

(Host) The Judiciary Committee is set to discuss the bill, and whether or not to send it on to the Senate, later today. 

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