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Vermont Governor Signs First Legislatively Approved Death With Dignity Law

Supporters, and a few opponents, crowded into the Governor’s Ceremonial office on the second floor of the Vermont statehouse Monday afternoon to witness the signing of the landmark End-of-Life Choices bill into law.

Vermont’s law allows terminally ill patients to request their primary physician prescribe medication to end their lives. Safeguards in the new law include requirements that the patient’s primary and a consulting physician agree that the condition is terminal within six months and that the patient is capable of making informed decisions. In addition, the request for lethal dosages must be made twice over a 15-day period and a third time in writing, and patients must administer the drugs themselves. And only Vermonters can use the law. Vermont is the third state to enact such a law and the first to do so through legislative action. Similar laws went into effect in Washington state and Oregon through public ballot initiatives.
Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, entered his packed ceremonial office to sign the bill and characterized its passage after 10 years of effort  as historic.

Former Vermont Governor and former Ambassador to Switzerland Madeline Kunin pushed for passage of the bill, saying there is no connection to suicide in the bill.

Vermont Right to Life Executive Director Mary Beerworth says an extensive network of groups, including the disability and medical community, remains opposed to the new law.

The version of the bill that was passed in this session went through several permutations. More than two dozen safeguards were stripped from the original version and at one point merely kept physicians legally exempt from prosecution. The final version that was signed into law passed in the House 75 to 65, following the Senate’s 17-to-13 approval.

True Dignity Vermont, a group vigorously opposed to the measure, has launched a hotline in response to the new law. Board member Edward Alonzo is concerned that the bill makes suicide acceptable to everyone.

Some hospitals in Vermont will not immediately participate, pending review of the End of Life Choices law by their ethics boards.

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