Contact: Peg Sandeen, MSW, Executive Director
Death with Dignity National Center
The Vermont legislature is in a position to enact historic legislation in the next few days. Should the Vermont House vote to concur with a Senate amendment passed on Wednesday, May 8, Vermont will become the first state in the nation to pass a Death with Dignity law through the legislative process.
The bill has had a difficult journey to passage and faces two more hurdles: the above-mentioned House concurrence and signature by the Governor. In past statements, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has promised to sign carefully-safeguarded Death with Dignity legislation, and he issued the following statement today:
I understand the deep convictions held by Vermonters on all sides of this extraordinarily personal issue. But I also know how important it is for those who face terminal illness and tremendous pain to have this choice, in conjunction with their physicians and loved ones, in the final days of their lives. I am grateful for the Legislature’s continued hard work on this difficult issue.
Legislative committees have heard days of emotional testimony from opponents and supporters, including Ann Jackson, former Executive Director of the Oregon Hospice Association and George Eighmey, who helped terminally ill Oregonians navigate the Oregon’s Death with Dignity law for 12 years. Lawmakers themselves participated in days of debate and several rounds of voting. The House concurrence vote, likely to occur in the next few days, will be the bill’s second trip to the House this year.
In fact, legislators have been exploring this issue since 2003 in the Green Mountain State, when a bill entitled the Vermont Death with Dignity Act was introduced by 38 sponsors in the House and 8 members in the Senate. According to Peg Sandeen, Executive Director of the Death with Dignity National Center, “We are so pleased that legislators in Vermont have taken another bold step toward expanding end-of-life options for terminally ill Vermonters. We have been committed to policy reform efforts in Vermont for over 10 years, and we are proud to partner with the dedicated individuals involved in Patient Choices Vermont.”
As with any legislation, there are no guarantees the House will support the Senate’s version of the proposed law. Sandeen added, “While there are no promises nor guarantees when it comes to the legislative process, our research shows Vermont has led the nation on improving indoor air quality, marriage equality, prescription drug access and Medicaid reform, we believe Vermont will take the lead on end-of-life care reform, also.” Should the Vermont House concur with the Senate version of the bill, Vermont will become the third state in the US, following Oregon and Washington, with a carefully-safeguarded law allowing terminally ill and mentally competent adults to hasten their deaths.
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