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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

‘Death With Dignity’ Supporters’ Hopes Revived

Supporters of a bill that would allow terminally ill people to end their lives by requesting lethal doses of medication from physicians are hoping the Vermont House can manage to revive the legislation, which was watered down earlier in the Senate.

This week, the House Judiciary and Human Services committees have been taking testimony on the bill that supporters call “death with dignity” and detractors call “physician-assisted death.”

The Senate narrowly voted in February to overhaul the legislation. But senators who supported the underlying bill said amendments approved on the Senate floor weakened the bill and stripped it of key safeguards. So they voted against it.

In the House, the end-of-life bill faces less opposition, and the group Patient Choices Vermont hopes lawmakers will resurrect the bill’s key provisions, including one that says patients must be Vermont residents and have less than six months to live.

“The legislative body may be divided, but I think there will be sufficient legislators who will listen to their constituents and respect their wishes,” said Dick Walters, founder of Patient Choices Vermont, who remains guardedly optimistic. “I fully believe that the legislation will ultimately pass this session and we’ll be able to get it to the governor’s desk.”

Governor Peter Shumlin has long championed end-of-life choices, and he has predicted that lawmakers will pass a measure this session.

Walters and other supporters want the Legislature to pass a version of the bill that mirrors a law enacted in Oregon more than 15 years ago. “We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Walters argued. “The closer we get to that [bill] the better off we will be.”

On Tuesday, April 16, the House committees will hold a public hearing on the bill from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the House Chamber at the Statehouse.