End of life choices bill comes down to swing votes - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

End of life choices bill comes down to swing votes

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The fate of a bill allowing terminal Vermonters to end their own lives may come down to one or two swing votes.

The measure is set to be taken up and passed in the House; if the Senate doesn't accept the amended version though, the two bodies are unlikely to reach compromise.

"Some thought, I don't know fully what to do with it yet," says Sen. Bob Hartwell (D-Bennington County).

In February, Sen. Bob Hartwell proved to be one of the key votes in significantly rewriting a proposal based on Oregon's assisted suicide law.

He and a slim majority of his colleagues voted to protect doctors should patients choose to overdose, but remove multiple patient oversight provisions they found too bureaucratic.

"There were substantial problems from a judiciary point of view with the language that came from the Senate," says Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg).

After the bill passed the Senate, the house human services committee restored much of the stripped language.

Bill Lippert, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says his committee won't alter the bill based on political palatability.

"My primary responsibility as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee is to have a bill that is carefully crafted and responsive and responsible," he says.

Lippert says his committee is divided on the bill morally, but unanimously agreed to ensure language in the bill does not provide legal cover for those with ill intent -- or criminalize any current medical practices.

The full House is expected to vote yes on the measure.

Sixteen votes in the Senate will determine if it goes to the Governor for his signature or lands in conference committee.

"The fact that I've sometimes been referred to as the sixteenth vote puts some additional pressure on this but in the end I'm going to do what I think is morally the thing I have to do," Hartwell says.

Hartwell says at this point he doesn't think his position will change.

If that is the case, differing views between the two bodies is likely to leave the bill in legal limbo.

Senate leadership does not support the end-of-life bill, but made exceptions to typical rules in order to give the matter a full hearing in the body this year.

If the measure does not ultimately pass, it's unclear if proponents will get another chance at the bill next year.

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