The Vermont House voted in favor of a Senate bill Monday night to legalize physician-aided suicide. It is the first state legislature in the country to vote for such a measure.
Passed with a 75-65 vote, the bill goes to Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin who supports the legislation and is expected to sign it into law, the Burlington Free Press reported
"It's huge," Michael Sirotkin, a lobbyist who's been involved with the issue in Vermont for a decade, told the Burlington Free Press, noting that other states and nations are watching the legislation.
"I think it's going to have a major effect on other states' willingness to vote on this," he added.
The law will take effect as soon as the governor signs it, allowing terminally ill Vermonters to seek a lethal dose of medication to hasten their own deaths, while giving immunity to doctors, family, and friends who may be involved.
Oregon and Washington already allow doctors to legally prescribe a lethal dose to terminally ill patients but their laws were passed via public referendum and not through their state legislatures as is the case in Vermont.
The bill has been debated for over a decade, and opposition was rife down to the final hours before the vote.
"There can never be a dignified death using a handful of pills or a lethal cocktail," said Rep. Carolyn Branagan, a Republican, while GOP Rep. Tom Koch said, "I believe this bill is a very dangerous bill. We have facilitated euthanasia."
One of the strongest points of contention has been the concern that a patient could be pushed into the decision to end their life, while others say the definition of a terminal condition could be interpreted too widely.
Democratic Rep. Cynthia Browning said, "We need to understand what might happen in the worst-case scenario. I do not believe the bill before us does that."
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