Vermont Becomes 4th State to Legalize Assisted Suicide
After years of debate, Vermont became the fourth state in the country Monday to allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients seeking to end their lives.
Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill into law at a Statehouse ceremony even as opponents vowed to push for its repeal.
The End of Life Choices law was effective immediately, although it could be weeks before the state Health Department develops regulations in accordance with the new measure.
Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen said he expects doctors to write between 10 and 20 lethal prescriptions a year, with a smaller number of patients actually using the drugs.
He based his figures on the experience in Oregon, the first state to legalize assisted suicide in 1997. Washington state and Montana followed later, with Montana's coming by way of a court order.
"It's used by a very small number, but it brings comfort to a much greater number knowing it's there," Chen said.
During emotionally charged discussion of the bill, proponents said Vermonters of sound mind who are suffering from terminal conditions should be able to choose when to end their lives. But opponents said the law could be abused and vulnerable people, especially the elderly, could be forced to end their lives.