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

Vt. House Rewrites End-Of-Life Bill

The Vermont House will soon consider an end of life bill that is very different from legislation that passed the Senate earlier this session.

When the Senate passed this bill several weeks ago, a 20 page bill was amended to just a single page during the floor debate.

The original bill contained a detailed process before a terminally ill person could request life ending medication from a physician. The amended version eliminated the process and granted doctors and family members immunity from prosecution for supplying the drugs.

By a vote of 7 to 4, the House Human Services committee has backed a bill that restores much of the process, and it also requires a patient to have an advanced directive and be enrolled in a hospice program.

Rochester Rep. Sandy Haas helped draft the new House bill.

“We have all of the safeguards that they have in Oregon. We have a 15 year track record in Oregon with this law,” said Haas. “Making sure that people have truly, truly exhausted all of the opportunities that are already available to them before considering what admittedly can be a drastic step.”

And Hass says the Senate bill didn’t respond to the needs of patients.

“That bill was about doctors the bill. The bill we passed this morning is about patients,” said Haas. “The Senate bill purports to be immunity for doctors for malpractice basically for misprescribing, for confusing patients about what happens.”

Northfield Rep. Anne Donahue has a very different point of view. She liked the Senate bill because it didn’t have the state officially approving the use of life ending drugs.

“I think that the direction that the Senate went made a huge amount of sense and didn’t have the intrusion on rights and the intrusion of the state actually sanctioning suicide.”

Donahue says there are serious flaws with the House bill. For example, she says a person can request the drugs if they have 6 months or less to live but that doesn’t mean they plan to use them right away.

“A person can then wait a month or two or three or more before actually taking it,” said Donahue. “And at that point there’s absolutely no protection about coercion family pressures, financial pressures and even whether a person still has the capacity to make that decision.”

The full House is expected to consider this bill early next week, and if it passes, it will set up a major debate between the House and Senate over this issue.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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