A new fight has erupted in Vermont that has doctors and other health-care providers there fighting a state mandate that they tell their patients suicide is one treatment option for health problems.

A lawsuit has been filed by officials with Alliance Defending Freedom against the Vermont Board of Medical Practice and the Office of Professional Regulation over their new demands.

“The state agencies are construing Vermont’s assisted suicide law as requiring them, regardless of their conscience or oath, to counsel patients on doctor-prescribed death as an option,” the legal team explained.

“According to the agency, only physicians must refer patients to others who will counsel for assisted suicide; however, all of the health care professionals filing suit contend it is unethical for them to counsel for, refer for, or in any other way participate in suicide at the hands of medical personnel,” the lawyers announced.

“The government shouldn’t be telling health care professionals that they must violate their medical ethics in order to practice medicine,” said ADF Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden. “These doctors and other health care workers deeply believe that suffering patients need understanding and sound medical treatment, not encouragement to kill themselves. The state has no authority to order them to act contrary to that sincere and time-honored conviction.”

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The case comes on behalf of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.

Named as defendants are William K. Hower, Michael A. Drew, Allen Evan, Faisal Gill, Robert Hayward, Patricia Hunter, David Jenkins, Richard Clattenburg, Leo LeCours, Sarah McClain, Christine Payne, Joshua Plavin, Harvey Reich, Gary Burgee, Marga Sproul, Richard Berstine, David Liebow as members of the state board, Secretary of State James Condos and Colin Benjamin of the Office of Professional Regulation.

“In spite of historical condemnations of physician involvement in suicide, Vermont medical authorities have recently determined to force conscientious doctors and other clinicians to counsel their patients for physician assisted suicide,” the complaint explains.

In fact, the state’s Act 39, those licensing authorities claim, in combination with a mandate to counsel for “all options,” requires doctors to provide that counseling.

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The department has stated, “Do doctors have to tell patients about this option? Under Act 39 and the Patient’s Bill of Rights, a patient has the right to be informed of all options for care and treatment in order to make a fully informed choice. If a doctor is unwilling to inform a patient, he or she must make a referral or otherwise arrange for the patient to receive all relevant information.”

The complaint says, “This is nothing but the redefinition of ‘palliative care’ to mean providing assisted suicide, an intolerable position for plaintiffs and other conscientious physicians and healthcare professionals.”

“Plaintiffs, state and national associations of conscientious healthcare professionals whose personal and professional ethics oppose the practice of assisted suicide, bring this action on behalf of their members against the operation of Act 39 to force them to counsel and/or refer for the practice.”

George Eighmey of the pro-suicide Death with Dignity told the Washington Times that the fight is over a mandate in the state’s patients bill of rights, not the Act 39 assisted suicide law.

And Linda Waite-Simpson, state Compassion & Care director, told the newspaper physicians should not be allowed to impose their own ethics on patients and “deny their legal right in Vermont to receive information about their end-of-life care options.”

The complaint notes Vermont is the fourth state, after Oregon, Washington and California, to allow assisted suicide, but the “first to mandate that all health care professionals participate in the practice.”

The law itself recognizes the ethical conflict, because it states, “A physician who engages in discussions with a patient related to such risks and benefits in the circumstances described in this chapter shall not be construed to be assisting in or contributing to a patient’s independent decision to self-administer a lethal dose of medication, and such discussions shall not be used to establish civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action.”

But the complaint says, “this provision does not absolve physicians of liability for failing or refusing to discuss assisted suicide as their own consciences direct.”

“The provisions of Act 39 require plaintiffs to promote the state’s views that physician assisted suicide is indicated in all instances of ‘terminal conditions’ and force them to counsel patients for physician assisted suicide in violation of the right of conscience, and threaten them with professional, civil and criminal consequences for holding opposing views,” the complaint charges.

The complaint alleges violations of the free speech, free exercise and due process protections in the First Amendment, as well as violations of other state and federal laws.

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