Vt. Senate Gives Final Passage To Overhauled Bill

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A deeply divided Vermont Senate has approved an end of life bill that gives physicians immunity for prescribing a lethal dose of medicine to terminally ill patients.

The action soon turns to the Vermont House, where supporters hope they can restore what they say are much needed safeguards.

For the second day in a row, Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott broke a tie on a bill that had senators arguing in caucus and on the Senate floor.

The bill that the Senate finally approved is a much-reduced version of legislation that failed to win support earlier in the week. It gives physicians and family members immunity if they help a terminally ill patient kill themselves.

Washington Senator Ann Cummings was a critic of the original bill that established more of a state process for physicians to follow. Her proposal simply addresses liability for doctors and family members. And it clarified a similar bill that was approved on Wednesday.

Cummings said she didn’t want the state to have a role in how people end their lives.

"Fifteen of us to believe that the state of Vermont should not be in the business of deciding who lives and who dies. We don’t have capital punishment," Cummings said. "We don’t have program now that sets up who lives and who dies, that that at the present time is a decision that happens between a doctor and his patient."

But critics of the bill said it lacked safeguards for patients. That was also the concern of Attorney General Bill Sorrell, whose office was asked to review it.

"And in our view the amended version took away so many of the patient protections of a person being competent, terminally ill with two different doctors… prognosis, diagnosis of that, the requirement that over a more than two week period of time there be three separate requests for the ability to get this medication," Sorrell said.

Sorrell says those safeguards are contained in an Oregon law that the original Vermont legislation was modeled after.

Supporters of the more comprehensive bill now hope the House will restore much of that original language.

House Speaker Shap Smith promised to give in a thorough review.

"The concern that I have is that a bill that has been thoroughly vetted was changed on the fly on the Senate floor and may pass over to us on a hugely consequential issue, and I have some real concerns about that," Smith said.

The bill will now be reviewed by several House committees, including the Judiciary Committee.




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