Death With Dignity Bill Takes Surprising Turn In Senate

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(Host) In a surprise and controversial move, the Senate Health and Welfare committee has voted in favor of the so called Death with Dignity bill.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel explains, the bill still faces many procedural hurdles before making it to the Senate floor for debate.

(Kinzel) There’s no question that this is one of the most emotional issues of the session. In fact, the legislation has two different names; supporters refer to it as Death with Dignity and opponents call it physician assisted suicide.

The legislation establishes a process that allows terminally ill people to receive medications that they can use to end their lives.  The bill was bottled up in the Senate Judiciary committee where a majority of members opposed it and it appeared unlikely that the issue would ever make it to the Senate floor.

(Kinzel) So several members of the Senate Health Care committee added the bill as an amendment to legislation that prohibits minors from using tanning beds. Chittenden senator Hinda Miller is a strong supporter of the bill. She says the issue deserves a full vote on the Senate floor.

(Miller) "We have the Governor and the Speaker who have for many years wanted this bill to pass and then we have Senate leadership that was not for the bill. So we’re representing citizens of Vermont."

(Kinzel) The question is whether or not the amendment will be considered germane to the tanning bill.  Miller says since tanning beds are responsible for the development of certain types of cancer, the connection is definitely there.

(Miller) "At a certain point you do what you have to do and we have a lot of ways to get things to the floor and sometimes different ways are blocked and you have to be a little creative and we feel strongly that this will be germane and that we will be able to bring this bill to a vote. That’s what we want to do."

(Kinzel) Rutland senator Kevin Mullen is a member of the committee. He opposes the bill and he was shocked that supporters took this action.

(Mullen) "Extremely disappointed. I mean we were talking about telemedicine and tanning beds today in committee and to think that Death with Dignity all of a sudden comes out of thin air and gets voted on within a matter of minutes is just not the way it should be done."

(Kinzel) Senate President John Campbell is also a member of the committee and a strong opponent of the bill. He doesn’t think the amendment will be found to be germane.

(Campbell) "Unfortunately I think that this is going to pit this committee against the Judiciary committee which did take the testimony in this matter. So I guess time will tell."

(Kinzel) As the presiding officer of the Senate, Lt. Governor Phil Scott will rule on a number of procedural challenges to the bill and his decisions can be challenged on the Senate floor.

If backers are not successful in this initial effort, they say they’ll look for other bills to attach their amendment to.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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