Vermont Senate Maintains Protections In Aid-In-Dying Law

Mar 12, 2015

Vermont Senate Chamber
Credit WAMC/Pat Bradley

The Vermont Senate has opted to maintain a series of patient protections in the state’s aid-in-dying law that were scheduled to expire next year.

Vermont's Patient Choice at End of Life law currently parallels an Oregon law. It has waiting periods, extensive reviews by doctors and other provisions designed to avoid a rushed or pressured decision by a patient to end his or her life.
But many of the provisions of Vermont’s law were scheduled to sunset on July 1, 2016.
The Senate Wednesday voted to delete the sunset and keep the patient protections. But that was after defeating two amendments. Senator Norm McAllister moved to repeal the law.   Senator Kevin Mullin moved that consideration of the bill be postponed until next January.

Compassion and Choices Vermont is an organization that helps people and physicians understand their rights under the law. State Director Linda Waite-Simpson says physicians wanted the safeguards to remain by having the sunset removed.   “Those who have participated and prescribed already have indicated largely that they feel that those protections should stay in place. They feel more secure prescribing having those protections and that really known process in place. If the sunset provision had come into law it was just a little wiggly. There were some questions about possible litigation and we want our physicians to feel secure that their rights, their immunity, is protected and that there is a set process to achieve that immunity. They have been very meticulous about observing that process.”

Waite-Simpson, who observed the Senate proceedings, is not surprised that the efforts to repeal the law were soundly defeated.   “This was actually said on the floor: that taking someone’s right away after you have granted that in statute is a very big deal. It is not done without good, solid evidence that something is not working.  The repeal efforts really came from people who are just philosophically opposed to having this option. There was no evidence presented that there has been any abuse or coercion under the law.”

Lynne Cleveland Vitzthum, a lobbyist representing the Vermont Center for Independent Living, is a former member of the Vermont House. She knew that amendments would be offered on a law she feels is dangerous.  “Certainly the opposition ti the Aid-in-Dying law is not going away. We will continue to be very active in addressing what we see are real failures in the law and in fact real threats to vulnerable Vermonters because of the existence of the law.”

As for removing the sunset, Vitzthum says it doesn’t improve the law.   “Another lobbyist has said this and I think it pretty much encapsulates how we feel. Removing the sunset takes a law that was an F-minus to us and makes if an F.  Did we want the provisions to sunset? No. But that doesn’t appease us. It doesn’t make us think any better of the law. It’s still a bad law and still one that we will continue to work to repeal.”

Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights President Ed Paquin opposed the law and is discomfited by the way it was crafted to get passed.  “In order to get a couple of votes there was a sunset placed on what was touted as the protections in the bill. And as it is there’s really no checks and balances in the bill other than what a doctor records. So there’s precious little in the way of protecting against abuse of the law. So having the sunset removed would be a good idea. It doesn’t make the bill innocuous.”

The bill to remove the sunset provision still must be considered in the House.