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Members of the Vermont House of Representatives have decided against moving forward with a plan that would have allowed physicians to give patients who ask enough drugs to kill themselves, voting 82-63 against the idea.
Only one state in the union so far has given that practice legal status, Oregon, but it’s a recurring issue across the nation, where citizen groups are regularly coming up against such plans.
Vermont’s plan was euphemistically called the “Patient Choice and Control at End of Life” legislation, but state Rep. Harvey Otterman said that it would have gone “too far in enforcing one group’s preferences on the traditional values of others.”
A report from Lifesite News said Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas opposed the idea, because while death with dignity is one issue, hastening that death is another.
“We need to make it dignified, we need to make it pain-free,” Douglas said prior to the debates. “But to empower physicians – who take an oath to alleviate pain and do no harm – to hasten death is a step in the wrong direction.”
“We know Vermont has a lot to do to increase access to hospice and palliative care, but we believe there are better ways to do it than the bill that was proposed,” said Deborah Lisi-Baker, who heads the Vermont Center for Independent Living.
Alex Schadenberg, who directs the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, called it “an incredible victory for the good of our culture.”
“Many people of goodwill got involved and went all out by contacting politicians, financing, and supporting the campaign in other ways. Thanks to Vermont, we can now be sure that through a common effort that it is possible to defeat the assisted suicide push everywhere,” he told Lifesite.
Dr. Robert Orr, who is a member of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, said Vermont law already allowed people with terminal illnesses to decline to accept further treatment.
“I think we should be using our efforts and energy to help people during the dying process – to treat their pain and their shortness of breath and their social and psychological and spiritual concerns,” he told Agape Press.
“We should be helping them through the dying process, not helping them to die,” he said.
Orr expressed the concern of many: that there would be too much potential for abuse.
He cited the experiences in the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legal for two decades. There doctors have admitted killing more than 20 newborns, and routinely say they make such decisions on their interpretation of a patient’s quality of life or life expectancy.
Now those physicians are asking for even more freedom in choosing which patients should live – or die, he noted.
“Experts in palliative care tell us that there is no need for people to die a miserable death,” he said, “because we can treat the pain. We can treat the shortness of breath, we can treat the bowel and bladder symptoms, the vomiting, and many symptoms that occur.”
A University of Vermont study showed that two-thirds of all states have laws specifically criminalizing such actions, while other states have laws that do not have clear direction.
The study noted Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act of 1997 legalizes doctors to give lethal drugs to patients, but does not allow anyone other than the patient to administer those drugs.
During 1998, the first full year of operation, the Oregon Health Division reported that 23 people received prescriptions for lethal medications, 15 of them died after taking them, six died from their underlying illness, and the others remained alive at the time of the 2001 report.
A report from the National Right to Life committee noted that the plan has been suggested repeatedly in Vermont.
The group said Vermont already is known as a “breeding ground” for radical ideas, and it is small, making it easier and less expensive for pro-euthanasia organizations to pour tons of money into advertising and lobbying.
“A win in this small state will lay the groundwork for the big win: the state of California,” the committee said.
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