At a Monday afternoon ceremony, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) will sign a bill making the state the third in the nation to permit euthanasia, putting his autograph on the Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act, the first so-called “Death with Dignity” bill to be passed by state lawmakers instead of the voters themselves.
“This is a major breakthrough for the Death with Dignity movement,” Barbara Coombs Lee, president of the advocacy group Compassion & Choices, told Raw Story. “It is the first time that legislators have passed a law like this.”
Under Vermont’s new law, people judged to be mentally competent who suffer from a terminal illness and have less than six months to live will be able to request that a doctor prescribe a lethal narcotic dose. Doctors who comply with those requests will be required to follow a procedure outlined by the state, which includes a patient certification that acknowledges their consent to death.
Patients will be required to self-administer the drugs, which will only be dispensed after the patient confirms his or her request three times 15 days apart. The law then permits doctors to issue a prescription after a 48 hour waiting period.
“This is intended for people who are at the end of their lives, not for people who are suicidal,” Lee said. “This does not apply to them at all. This is about people who do not have a choice on living or drying. They are dying. Death is imminent. To them, the choice really is what that feels like for them and what it looks like for their loved ones who will hopefully be with them.”
Similar laws are on the books in Washington and Oregon, but it took voters to push those measures through. Death with Dignity rules in Montana were also implemented after a state Supreme Court ruling in 2009. In Vermont, it took a vote by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (D) to break a 15-15 tie in the state’e senate, sending the bill to Shumlin for final approval. It cleared the Vermont House earlier in the month by a vote of 75 to 65, with mostly Republicans in opposition.
The law expires in 2016, assuming doctors in Vermont have adopted their own formal set of rules governing euthanasia.
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Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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