Friday, March 09, 2007

Patient Choice / Death with Dignity

Governor Madeleine Kunin (right) in an ad supporting patient choice and Death with Dignity.

One bill of many that I support is H.44. It is focused on patient choice and control at the end of life. Some have called this issue Death with Dignity, and some have even termed it Life with Dignity. In any case, H.44 was passed by the House Human Services Committee and I believe that it will eventually move the full House for a vote.
Last month I saw hundreds (yes hundreds) of supporters and opponents of the bill fill the State House. They stayed for hours to give their testimony, and what I heard was people speaking passionately from their hearts. I was deeply moved. They spoke about how the bill give terminally ill, mentally competent Vermonters who have been diagnosed with less than six months to live, the option to request prescription medication, which, if taken, would hasten the dying process.
The bill has many safeguards in place to ensure that this process is responsible and will not lead to the problems that many opponents articulated. The bill stipulates that only a patient who is a Vermont resident can initiate a request for the prescription, and the request must be both written and verbal and reiterated after a 15-day waiting period. The request may be rescinded at any time. Two witnesses must attest that the patient is acting voluntarily and not being coerced. A patient’s doctor must determine that the patient is competent, within six months of death and under no external pressure to make the request. A second doctor must verify the patient’s diagnosis, prognosis and competency and attest that the patient is acting voluntarily and not being coerced. If either physician believes the patient suffers from a psychological condition or depression, the patient must be referred for counseling. The bill was patterned after the Oregon patient-directed dying law that was passed in 1997, but the Vermont bill has more stringent safeguards in place.

If it passes into law, we will not only be one of two states to provide this important options to patients, but we will also continue a nationwide dialogue on this vital issue.As always, I welcome your thoughts on this and other issues.


At March 17, 2007 8:36 AM, Anonymous Daniel Sanchez said...

I'm glad that the bill has passed out of committee and is likely to meet a floor vote at some time in the near future. However if the bill is approved by both chambers, Gov. Douglas has already promised to veto it, which would render a lot of good work on the issue useless. Do you feel your colleagues in the House and Senate have enough votes to override a Douglas veto to finally make this law?

At March 17, 2007 11:52 PM, Blogger Jason P. Lorber said...

Thanks for your post Daniel.

Right now I'm focused on the debate and the upcoming vote. I honestly don't know what the vote count will be.

Stay tuned -- or better yet, get involved and contact your (other) elected officials, and consider volunteering with the advocacy organizations.

At April 02, 2007 5:58 PM, Blogger Jason P. Lorber said...

H.44 was voted down 63-82 by the House of Representatives. While the measure had tri-partisan supporters, it also had tri-partisan opponents.

I heard from dozens of constituents on this issue, about half for and half against the bill.

While I voted for the bill and was sad to see this choice voted down, I was heartened that the debate, while emotional at times, was almost universally respectful.


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