The original S.77 was well thought out and modeled after the Oregon law that allows a competent adult with a terminal illness the ability to have control at the end of his life. Many objected because they felt that no one should take his own life and this was condoning suicide. Some objected because they felt there were not enough safeguards for the disability community, that it discriminated against those who had lost the ability to self-administer the drug, and that it didn’t put enough emphasis on palliative care.
At the last minute, with no testimony, an amendment was introduced that struck all the language in S.77 and replaced it with a bill that now does not satisfy either. What was passed grants immunity to a doctor who prescribes a medicine for symptom relief of a terminal illness if the patient overdoses and dies. It also provides immunity for anyone present at the death. Both of these immunities were in the original bill.
This has no safeguards - there is no requirement for competency, no age requirement, no requirement that the doctor advise you of the availability of palliative care, no requirement that the doctor even advise you of what might be a lethal dose (in not knowing, one could take just enough to put them in a coma), no requirement that the patient ask for the drug or suggest his intentions.
This bill gives physicians immunity with no protection for patients. According to the attorney general’s office it seems to be so broad as to cover any form of professional discipline or tort liability even for misconduct or gross negligence. And because it is all wink wink, there is no ability for an after the fact review.
I spoke with the attorney general’s office, a state’s attorney, a former AG, a medical attorney, the palliative care specialist at Fletcher Allen, and two M.D.s - all agreed it was an ill-conceived idea.
Unlike the underlying bill, there was no testimony on this and it was written at the last minute. Supporters argue that this gets government out of our death. It does not - it provides immunity with no protections. Some say there were too many hoops to go through with the original S.77. I would say there is a difference between hoops and good care.
What we have done is passed a bill that legalizes physician assisted suicide, not a patient choice or death with dignity bill. Both sides of this issue have lost.
So why did we pass it? Some voted for it because they saw it as a way to kill the original S.77, some because they just did not want to have to vote on this highly charged issue, some because they believed it provided a good answer to a thorny issue, some to at least keep something alive that might have the chance to be improved on by the House.
At the end of the alphabet I had the luxury of being able to vote against it yet knowing it would remain alive to continue to be worked on. My hope is that the House will take it up and do its best to improve this bill.