Vermonters squeezed into standing and sitting-room only spaces as House committee members renewed debate on end of life choices for the terminally ill.
Senate Health Committee chairwoman Claire Ayer helped craft a dense proposal based on Oregon's 15-year-old assisted suicide law earlier this year. Wednesday she told legislators the goal is simple.
"To allow dying Vermonters more autonomy and more control in the final days. It allows them to participate in their deaths on their own terms," said Ayer, D-Addison County.
Senators split on the committee proposal during floor debate. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, broke the tie, sending a less-expansive measure to the House.
"This was more of an attempt to say we're not going to be actively involved, but we're not going to actually stand in your way either," said Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington County.
Cummings took part in crafting the current legislation. It protects doctors should patients choose to overdose, but removes multiple oversight provisions.
Rep. Francis McFaun, R/D-Barre Town: Which bill are we going to act on?
Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington: Um we're... I don't know.
Despite the non-answer from House Human Services Chairwoman Ann Pugh, the body is expected to restore the stripped-out language from the original proposal.
If representatives can't sway swing votes in the Senate, the measure will land in a conference committee, where differing opinions could once again stall the controversial legislation.
Gov. Peter Shumlin says he expects to sign an end-of-life bill into law this year, and supports the Oregon-style model.
"Often you are in excruciating pain that we should let the individual Vermonter and their health care provider make the choices about the next 10 or 12 days without interference from the government telling you what choices you should make. So, I support the bill. I think it's just common sense," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.
The House will take testimony from the public on the legislation this coming Tuesday beginning at 5:30 p.m.
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