Bureaucrats in Vermont not only have forced doctors to counsel patients to commit suicide in violation of their medical ethics, they are not even willing to delay prosecution of dissenting physicians while a lawsuit over the issue is settled.

That unsettling fact was revealed this week when lawyers with the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a request for a preliminary injunction over the issue.

They are asking for the judge to order a halt to state action against their clients while the lawsuit runs its course because the state would not agree.

“Plaintiffs certify that they have made a good faith effort to obtain the opposing party’s agreement to the requested relief. Counsel for plaintiffs contacted counsel for defendants requesting consent to the motion, but defendants declined to consent,” they said in a motion for the injunction.

ADF Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden said the government “shouldn’t be telling health care professionals that they must violate their medical ethics in order to practice medicine.”

“Because the state has no authority to order them to act contrary to that sincere and time-honored conviction, we are asking the court to ensure that no state agency is able to do that while this lawsuit moves forward,” he said.

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ADF has sued the state, representing the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Christian Medical and Dental Association, because two state agencies, the Board of Medical Practice and the Office of Professional Regulation, suddenly decided that the state’s assisted suicide law requires doctors, regardless of their conscience or oath, to “counsel” patients regarding the availability of doctor-prescribed death.

“Although Act 39, Vermont’s assisted suicide bill, passed with a very limited protection for attending physicians who don’t wish to dispense death-inducing drugs themselves, state medical licensing authorities have construed a separate, existing mandate to counsel and refer for ‘all options’ for palliative care to include a mandate that all patients hear about the ‘option’ of assisted suicide,” ADF explained.

ADF seeks a halt to prosecutions while the lawsuit is pending, but the state has refused.

In a brief supporting the motion for a preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs argue, “Vermont’s Act 39 makes the state the first and only one to mandate that all licensed healthcare professionals counsel terminal patients about the availability and procedures for physician-assisted suicide, and refer them to willing prescribers to dispense the death-dealing drug. Act 39 coerces professionals to counsel patients about the ‘benefits’ of assisted suicide – benefits that plaintiffs; members do not believe exist – and in addition stands in opposition to a federal law protecting healthcare professionals who cannot participate in assisted suicide for conscientious reasons.

“Because plaintiffs’ attempts to repeal or amend the law have proven futile, and enforcement is imminent, plaintiffs…[ask] for a preliminary injunction enjoining defendants from enforcing the provisions of Act 39…and its incorporated statutes…against their members for declining to counsel or refer patients diagnosed with ‘terminal conditions’ on the availability of physician-assisted suicide.”

WND reported when the case was filed the 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.

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“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 said.

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

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 said, “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 group 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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