Vermont legalizes assisted suicide

Xavier Symons
25 May 2013
Reproduced with Permission

Vermont has become the fourth US state to legalize euthanasia. Its legislature voted in favor of the controversial law last week. The new legislation allows anyone over the age of 18 with an "incurable and irreversible disease" and a maximum of six months to live to obtain a prescription for lethal drugs.

The bill was signed into law by governor Peter Shumlin on Monday. Vermont's House passed the bill 75-65, after its passage through the Senate earlier this month.

The new law has had a mixed reception. Bob Ullrich, of Patient Choices Vermont said that "it means peace of mind and comfort to a lot of people… to know every day of your life that it's there should such an occurrence happen." Kathryn Tucker of Compassion and Choices told reporters that "support for patients to be empowered and choose aid and dying is growing… I think this is an important step in moving that forward."

But anti-euthanasia groups have expressed grave concern about the bill. "We now have state-sanctioned suicide in Vermont," said Edward Mahoney of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare.

Bioethicist Wesley Smith has called on hospitals to refuse to offer the procedure: "Indeed, rather than help kill, doctors and hospitals should post copies of the Hippocratic Oath in their waiting rooms and publicly declare their practice or facility to be an 'assisted suicide free zone'".

The new law does not require hospitals to offer euthanasia. It requires at least two doctors to make the medical determination whether or not a patient qualifies for physician-assisted suicide. A patient wishing to end his life must make an initial oral request at least 15 days before receiving lethal drugs, and a written and oral request to die 48 hours before receiving them.