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

House Approves End Of Life Bill

A bill allowing dying patients to get a doctor’s help to end their lives is on its way to Governor Peter Shumlin for his signature.

Supporters last night mustered enough votes to defeat several amendments that would have stalled the bill for a year.

The first was offered by Barre Independent Paul Poirier. He says the bill was hastily patched together and may include errors that could jeopardize vulnerable people.

"I would ask the members to really consider, do we want to pass a bill, not amended, just accepting 100 percent what the Senate did, and literally overnight? This is not how we should be passing legislation in this body. This is a monumental piece of legislation," Poirier said.

The compromise bill now includes elements of an Oregon-style law that spells out procedures for patients and doctors to follow before the drugs can be prescribed. These protections include a requirement that patients get a second opinion on their diagnosis before getting the medication.

The Oregon-type restrictions would be in place for three years. They would then sunset, leaving a stripped down version on the books that protects physicians and family members from criminal liability.

Rochester Progressive Sandy Haas reminded her colleagues that they had supported both versions in earlier debate.

"Clearly, this bill represents a careful compromise. But it’s important to remember that 130 members of this body two weeks ago voted to support one or the other of these two models. The great majority recognized that Vermont does need legislation to enable those at the end of their lives to have a peaceful death surrounded by their loved ones," Haas said.

When the bill becomes law, Vermont would become the fourth state to allow what backers call death with dignity and opponents label physician assisted suicide.

Oregon and Washington have similar laws. A court in Montana has also ruled that physicians can prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally ill patients without fear of criminal prosecution.

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