Vermont Senate approves amended death bill - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermont Senate approves amended death bill

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

The emotional debate over patients' rights when it comes to end of life choices is not over. But there was a big twist Wednesday with senators scrapping parts of the bill they'd worked on for months.

Two wrenching days of debate in the senate ended with a dramatic change to the end of life bill.  Backers of the bill say this new version strips safeguards aiming to protect vulnerable patients leaving behind the status quo.

"I think there were a couple of people who didn't want to vote on the other bill - so we voted for a bill that's useless," said Senator Claire Ayer (D-Addison County.)

"They may see it as gutting it, I see it as passing some legislation that moves us forward," explained Senator Dick Sears (D-Bennington County.)

For weeks lawmakers have heard from constituents on both sides. The emotional debate over whether patients should be able to end their own lives hit the airwaves.

The original bill was modeled after Oregon's law. It would have allowed doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medicine to terminally ill patients after several, formalized discussions between them. The patient had to make two oral and one written request before a doctor could do anything.

But the provisions proved controversial fueling a divide in the Senate.

Senators Robert Hartwell and Peter Galbraith proposed an amendment removing those doctor/patient requirements -- and instead creating a system that protects doctors from prosecution if they choose to help a patient with a lethal prescription.

"So I thought, is there a way to go forward? To do what both groups want to do? Or at least have elements of it? And that's what this does," said Sen. Peter Galbraith, (D-Windham.)

But the proposed change did not bridge the divide. The vote was tied until Lt. Governor Phil Scott (R-Vermont) voted for it.

"I thought this was an opportunity to at least change the direction of the bill a bit," Scott explained.

But Senator Ayer is not satisfied, "Disappointed. But at times like this I think of Scarlett O'Hara. Tomorrow is another day," she explained.

The Senate will weigh more amendments Thursday. If the bill does pass it still needs approval in the House.

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