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

After Months Of Debate, Senate Reaches Compromise On End-Of-Life Bill

Death photo JD 050813.jpg
VPR/John Dillon

A last minute compromise means a bill allowing terminally ill patients to get a doctor’s help to end their lives will likely become law this year.

The compromise was structured to win over just one vote.

The end of life issue has evenly divided the Vermont Senate, with 15 opposing legislation allowing terminally ill patients to get a lethal prescription, and 15 who support it.

One potential swing vote was Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham. And on Wednesday afternoon, Galbraith found himself surrounded by cameras and microphones as he explained why he would support a compromise proposal.

“What is different here that there is no state-sanctioned process for doctors to follow for end of life. There is a provision that gives doctors immunity if they follow a rather elaborate set of procedures based on the Oregon model,” he said. “But the requirement for those procedures then disappears after three years and we get to a situation where I think the decision belongs, which is between a doctor and his patient.”

The new bill goes into effect as soon as the governor signs it. The bill includes elements of versions of legislation that – by themselves – had failed to win over 16 senators.

The new bill first establishes up a process, modeled after a law in Oregon, that requires detailed controls and reporting rules for doctors and patients.

But those Oregon-style provisions sunset after three years.

Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, was a lead sponsor of the original bill, which was modeled after the Oregon law. He said the compromise was necessary to win Galbraith’s vote.

“This was the price we had to pay for the 16th vote. It’s a simple as that,” he said. “We had a gun held to our head, you know: ‘do it my way or innocent people will suffer.’ We chose not to have innocent people suffer.”

Legislation modeled after the Oregon law has already passed the House. Supporters of the bill said they were hopeful the House would go along with the Senate changes, and that the bill would become law.