A federal judge threw out a lawsuit by two alliances of doctors opposing state rules that require them to advise terminally ill patients to consider doctor-assisted suicide.

The requirement violates the physicians’ faith as well as their constitutional rights, contend the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.

But U.S. District Judge Geoffrey Crawford dismissed the complaint, claiming the plaintiffs failed “to establish subject matter jurisdiction due to lack of standing.”

In short, he said since no one had yet been punished under the requirement, there was no case.

“The court concludes that plaintiffs lack jurisdictional standing to challenge the constitutionality of Act 39 in the absence of any likelihood of imminent harm. The case is not ripe in the sense that no enforcement action is pending now or is likely to be brought in the future. The lack of standing applies across the board to all claims of constitutional violations, both state and federal. Dismissal without prejudice is required,” the judge wrote.

He said until someone actually is punished, or harmed, by the state demands, “the court is left to speculate about how a member of plaintiffs’ organizations might respond to an inquiry from a terminally ill patient and whether that response might precipitate disciplinary proceeding.”

“The court runs the risk of writing an advisory opinion stating that a physician may act in one way but not in others in order to avoid any risk of professional discipline.”

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Crawford said the Constitution allows federal courts jurisdiction over “cases” and “controversies” so he is without authority “to issue advisory opinions or decide ‘purely hypothetical case[s]’.”

The Vermont Board of Medical Practice and Office of Professional Regulation believes the state’s assisted- suicide law orders health care professionals, regardless of their beliefs, to advise patients that doctor-prescribed death is an option.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the doctors, contends that while 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.”

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and ADF-allied attorney Michael Tierney are fighting for the physicians who say that want to uphold their oath to “do no harm.”

“Vermont health care workers just want to act consistently with their reasonable and time-honored convictions without fear of government punishment,” said ADF Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden.

He argued in the federal court last November.

“Because we believe they face a very real conflict in this situation, our clients are seriously considering all of their legal options,” he said.

WND reported last year the doctors argued the state “has no authority to order them to act contrary to that sincere and time-honored conviction.”

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WND reported 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.

“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.

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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