“Death With Dignity” Legislation Raises Renewed Debate

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(Host) Vermont is once again facing a debate over whether terminally ill patients should have the right to end their own lives with help from a doctor.

VPR’s Samantha Fields has more:

(Fields) A bill was introduced in the House last month. Supporters call it "Death with Dignity" or "Right to Die" legislation… opponents call it "physician-assisted suicide."

Diana Barnard is a physician who focuses on end-of-life palliative care, and who supports the bill. She says that it really comes down to patient choice and control.

(Barnard) "The important thing to stay focused on is the right of an individual to have decision making ability at a point in their lives when death is certain. Death is coming"

(Fields) But the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights is opposed to the legislation. The group’s president is Ed Paquin . He says the bill would be bad public policy, and would send the wrong signal.

(Paquin) "The message to wider society that perhaps having someone toilet you, having your mobility impaired is a life without dignity, and it’s time to get out when that happens, it’s broader than the individual suffering."

(Fields) A bill similar to the one currently in the House was defeated in 2007. But advocates are more optimistic about its chances this year. Both House Speaker Shap Smith and Governor Peter Shumlin support the legislation.

Windsor Democrat Donna Sweaney  is one of the lead sponsors of the House bill.

(Donna Sweaney) "I think we have enough votes in the house to pass the bill. As I asked people to sign on with me, they would agree that this was something they supported".

(Fields) The legislation is currently in the Human Services Committee.

House Speaker Shap Smith has said he will not bring the bill to the floor for a vote unless he’s sure it will pass. Sweaney says she believes that is likely to happen this session.  

For VPR news, I’m Samantha Fields.


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