The Vermont House of Representatives cleared the way Monday night to make the New England state the third in the country to legalize physician-assisted suicide.
The House voted 75-to-65 for the bill patterned after Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, according to the Times Argus, a central Vermont newspaper. It now heads to the desk of Governor Peter Shumlin for his review.
Legalizing assisted suicide "gives Vermonters who are suffering from a terminal illness and anticipating excruciating pain peace of mind in knowing that this is an option," Shumlin told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. He said his mother, who is in her 80s and in good health, expressed her support for the bill.
How does it work?
For the first three years, The Associated Press writes, Vermont's death law program will mirror Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.
That means before the lethal drug is prescribed, two doctors must determine the patient is mentally competent and has less than six months to live. The patient is also required to verbalize three times — once in writing (see sample form below) — the wish to die. The Doctor can only prescribe the lethal medication, not administer it.
REQUEST FOR MEDICATION TO HASTEN MY DEATH
I, ___________________ , am an adult of sound mind.
I am suffering from _______________, which my prescribing physician has
determined is a terminal disease and which has been confirmed by a consulting
physician. I have been fully informed of my diagnosis, prognosis, the nature of
medication to be prescribed and potential associated risks, and the expected
result. I have completed an advance directive. I have been informed of all
feasible end-of-life services or am enrolled in hospice care. I request that my prescribing physician prescribe medication that will hasten my death.
After three years, some of those guidelines melt away, "leaving a stripped down version on the books that protects physicians and family members from criminal liability," Vermont Public Radio reported.
Meanwhile, critics are disappointed and concerned. "There is potential here for abuse of the disabled," said Rep. Carolyn Branagan, R-Georgia, "especially disabled elders," she said, the AP reported.
"Does anyone really think that the most vulnerable will be protected?" asked one online reader.
That question also resonated with Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre, according to Burlington Free Press.
"Nothing in the definition of a patient being capable of making a decision to hasten his or her own life precludes an ill-meaning spouse from translating the patient’s wishes to a doctor."
“I believe this bill is very dangerous bill,” Koch said. “We have facilitated euthanasia.”
The Gov. is expected to sign the bill into law this week, the Wall Street Journal said.