Support Grows in Northeast for Assisted Suicide Bill

Friday, 22 Mar 2013 02:03 PM

By Lisa Barron

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Vermont could become the first state to enact legislation that would give terminally ill patients the right to doctor-assisted death.

The “Patient Choice and Control at End of Life” bill passed the state Senate in February and goes to the House this month, according to USA Today. It would give patients with a prognosis of less than six months to live the right to request and take life-ending medication.

Oregon and Washington passed similar bills in voter referendums, and now support for assisted dying is gaining traction in the Northeast, the newspaper reported Friday. It noted that Connecticut and New Jersey legislators are also considering doctor-assisted death measures.

The Oregon law requires a patient to get two physicians to confirm terminal illness before death procedures can be carried out. It also requires patients to be mentally competent, at least 18, and to be a resident of the state. There are also two waiting periods and the patient must be able to swallow the medicine on their own.

A Supreme Court ruling in 2006 upholding the Oregon voter referendum on assisted death paved the way for other states to create their own laws, Peg Sandeen, executive director of Death With Dignity, which helped write the Oregon law, told USA Today.

But assisted dying is still illegal in most states and opponents have been fighting proposals to legalize it for the past 15 years.

The Vermont bill has had strong support from Dick Walters, 88, and his wife Ginny, 87, who have devoted the past ten years to the cause, although both insist they are healthy.

“It makes ultimate sense to people who have lived their lives in an independent way and don’t want to be reduced to an infantile existence,” Dick Walters told the newspaper, adding it has taken a long time “but we think Vermont will do this now.”

Massachusetts voters defeated a similar measure by 51 percent to 49 percent in November. The opposition was heavy from the Catholic Church and other religious groups, but that hasn’t deterred its backers.

“We may have lost this time in Massachusetts, but we won in the region,” said Barbara Coombs, president of Compassion and Choices.

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