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Senator Ann Cummings. Her amendment passed in the VT Senate after the Lieutenant Governor broke a tie vote. Photo: Sarah Harris
Senator Ann Cummings. Her amendment passed in the VT Senate after the Lieutenant Governor broke a tie vote. Photo: Sarah Harris

VT Senate passes end-of-life bill

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After three days of intense debate, the Vermont state Senate passed an end-of-life bill that will now make its way to the House. The bill is substantially changed. It addresses liability of doctors and caregivers, but doesn't say much about state requirements or palliative care.

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Reported by

Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

Yesterday's debate in the Vermont Senate focused on two major amendments to the end-of-life bill.

Senators discussed whether the state has any role to play in end-of-life decisions.

Senator John Rodgers, who represents Essex and Orleans counties, thought he'd found a solution.

His amendment included much of the original bill but also requires doctors to refer the patient to palliative care, and keep records of how many requests for end-of-life prescriptions they receive. It also defines a patient-doctor relationship, and provides specifics about doctors' duty to notify the patients' next of kin.

"So I thought it satisfied what everyone was looking for, but obviously the whole senate didn't agree," Rodgers said.

Senator Ann Cummings, from Montpelier, proposed an amendment that stripped away a lot of those specifics. Her amendment grants immunity to doctors and loved ones if a terminally ill patient takes medication and ends their own life.

"It tried to move us forward, it tried to protect people that want to make this choice without getting the state of Vermont involved in sanctioning that choice," Cummings explained.

The Senate was deeply divided over the two amendments. Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott broke a tie vote — and Senator Cummings' amendment passed.

The Senate then passed the bill, 22-8.

Senator John Rodgers says the new bill doesn't do enough.

"I don't think we did a single thing, and that's why I voted against it in the end. What I wish would happen is that we would have a full discussion and come out with a bill that gives Vermonters choice at the end of their life. The last thing we want to see is people suffering."

The bill will now head to the House, where Senators Cummings and Rodgers predict it will be substantially changed.

Governor Peter Shumlin is a strong supporter of end-of-life legislation.

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