Lt. Gov. Breaks Tie As Senate Changes End Of Life Bill

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After a full day of debate, the Vermont Senate completely overhauled legislation that allows terminally ill people to end their lives.

It was a change that many supporters of the original bill argued would weaken it, so they voted against it.

But Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott broke a tie vote and the new version was advanced.

The debate focused on an amendment proposed by Windham Senator Peter Galbraith and Bennington Senator Robert Hartwell. Their proposal would replace the bill with a measure that would essentially grant immunity to physicians when patients take a lethal dose of prescribed medication.

Galbraith said he wanted to strike a compromise that would be acceptable to both sides. He said opponents objected to a state-sanctioned process that would allow people to end their lives, while proponents want to give terminally ill patients a way to end their suffering. He said his bill accomplishes that goal, with minimum state involvement.

"It is more or less what goes on right now, at least for people lucky enough to have a doctor with whom they have a relationship," he said.

But Galbraith said the key difference between what happens now, and what his bill would allow, is that physicians and family members would be protected from prosecution.

"This amendment does what is basically humane," he said. "It says if you are there with a family member who has made a decision to end their life, that you will not face a criminal or civil liability."

But other senators said Galbraith’s amendment lacked protections for patients.

Addison Senator Claire Ayer chairs the Health and Welfare Committee, and sponsored the end of life bill.

"There are no safeguards. It doesn’t say that they have to be Vermonters. It doesn’t say that they have to be screened for depression or any other kind of illness," she said. "It doesn’t say that we’re going to keep any track of this people. It doesn’t say that they need to offered hospice or palliative care."

The second day of debate brought more emotional speeches from senators who told their own stories about caring for family members at the end of their lives.

Senate leaders hope the body will take final action on this bill by end of the week.


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