Senate Considers Amendments to End-of-Life Choices Bill

Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, testifies before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday morning at the Statehouse.

Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, testifies before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday morning at the Statehouse.

By Kirk Carapezza

Lawmakers will debate Wednesday afternoon a series of amendments to a bill that would give terminally ill patients with six months or less to live the right to request lethal medication to end their lives.

The debate comes a day after the full Senate voted 17-to-13 to advance the bill, reversing the negative recommendation of the Judiciary Committee.

Sens. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, and Robert Hartwell, D-Bennington, have proposed replacing the bill with an amendment that would give certain immunity to doctors who prescribe lethal drugs.

Hartwell has been riding the fence, but he voted to advance the bill on Tuesday. Now he wants the Senate to seriously consider the immunity amendment.

“It’s a possible way to handle the entire problem with a lot less government intrusion, and probably provide some immunity to people who might not be immune now given even the present practices that we have,” said Hartwell, who won’t indicate whether failure to adopt the amendment would lead him to vote against the bill.

Sen. Galbraith testified before the Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday morning, saying he’s heard from many constituents, especially physicians, who are worried about being prosecuted.

“I can understand if you’re terminally ill you might have a lot on your mind – you might need something,” said Galbraith, who said he remains undecided on the underlying bill.

Sen. Virginia Lyons, D-Chittenden, pressed Galbraith to make clear his motivation for proposing an amendment.  “So what you’re saying is, ‘OK, I’m giving you this drug, wink, wink, but don’t use it to kill yourself?’” she asked.

“As I listen to both sides of this, the strongest objection for the opponents was to the idea that there was a state-sponsored statutory process and from the medical profession that they were being involved in something that was contrary to what they stand for,” Galbraith responded.

Sen. Claire Ayer, the sponsor of the bill, insisted the measure contains numerous safeguards, including one that would require patients to see two doctors to determine that they have a fatal illness and don’t have long to live.

Ayer said the state’s medical community should not be concerned about liability or immunity.

“This is not a bill about physicians who aren’t interested in this and don’t want to participate,” she said. “This is about physicians who do want to offer this. The others are not affected and I’m not really concerned about what they think.”

If Galbraith and Hartwell refuse to back the bill without the adoption of their amendment the legislation could be in jeopardy. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott opposes the bill and would cast a vote to break a tie.

Ayer and other end-of-life choice advocates say they are still confident they have the votes to pass the bill in the Senate.

The end-of-life choices debate will resume on the Senate floor at 2:30 p.m. You can listen to here.

You can also read proposed amendments here.

Earlier: Senate Advances End-of-Life Bill