New push for life ending legislation

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(Host) Supporters of legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives began a new push at the State House Friday.

The “Vermont Patient Choice and Control and the End of Life Act” would allow a terminally ill adult to receive a life-ending drug.

The bill would require physician consultation and a psychological evaluation under some circumstances and both oral and written requests from the patient.

The entire process would take at least 15 days.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) A bill similar to this one stalled in the last session of the legislature. Supporters feel their prospects are better now that a new group of lawmakers is in Montpelier.

Friday morning, they handed out green stickers that said Listen to the Patient as they rallied in the Senate chamber.

Almost all of those who turned out are old enough that the issue of how they will die isn’t an abstraction. They say they simply want to be able to choose the time and place of their death if they are terminally ill.

The former Governor of Oregon cheered them on.

(Roberts) “First of all I want to tell you how happy I am to be back in Vermont “

(Zind) Barbara Roberts was Governor when Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act became law in 1998. Her state is the only one that has enacted a law like the one being proposed in Vermont.

Roberts told supporters of the Vermont bill that eight years after its passage 246 people have taken advantage of the Oregon law to end their lives. She says the law has worked so well that the controversy over its passage has long since ended in her state.

(Roberts) “You rarely hear anyone in Oregon speak out against this legislation any longer. People believe it is doing exactly what it was intended to do. Of the people who have ended their life a few days early with the use of this medication, not one of those people has been a person with a pre-existing disability. So concerns about the disability community being pushed or in some way being encouraged to use this, most of them are not even eligible. They’re not terminally ill.”

(Zind) Later in day the supporters mingled with the bill’s opponents who wore yellow stickers that said I Oppose Physician Assisted Suicide . Together they filed into a house committee hearing on the bill.

Deborah Lisi-Baker is Executive Director of the Vermont Center for Independent Living.

She says that because not everyone has equal access to health care, she’s afraid ending one’s life will be not just one option, but the only option for people who can’t afford better care.

(Lisi-Baker) “So unless we deal with some of those underlying social issues, and really have it be focused on what society’s responsibility is to promote equal access to quality care, and doing what we can to make sure that there’s not discrimination. Not everybody gets access to quality care.”

(Zind) Opponents say they’re also concerned about the safeguards of the proposed legislation and they question the accuracy of the Oregon statistics cited by Governor Roberts.

They say patients can already take steps to hasten death by refusing treatment or sustenance.

There will be a public hearing on the bill Tuesday evening at the State House.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Montpelier.

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