Death with dignity bill to get public hearingBy PETER HIRSCHFELD
Vermont Press Bureau | January 28,2013MONTPELIER – A bill that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients takes its first step on a preordained path through the Senate when lawmakers host a public hearing in the chamber of the House Tuesday evening.
While no one can guarantee whether the controversial legislation will win majority support in the Senate, advocates have been promised a vote on the body’s floor. And Senate leaders have charted in advance its course though the legislative process.
To proponents, the legislation will enable suffering patients to choose “death with dignity.” To its detractors, the bill establishes a dangerous precedent they say could diminish the value of human life.
“Most people feel very strongly about it one way or the other,” Sen. Claire Ayer, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare said Monday.
Ayer’s committee plays host to what promises to be an emotional night of testimony in Montpelier, where citizens will make cases for or against the bill. The event, which begins at 5 p.m. and will be broadcast live on Vermont Public Television, will be followed by committee hearings on Wednesday and Thursday and a committee vote sometime Friday.
Ayer’s committee has the votes to pass the bill, which will then head to the Senate floor sometime next week. That’s where things could get interesting.
Ayer has agreed to postpone a vote on the floor, and instead refer the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where one of the legislation’s chief opponents, Sen. Dick Sears, will put the legislation through its paces. Sears, a Bennington County Democrat, said Monday that he has “dozens” of problems with the bill, ranging from the practical – like criminal liability for doctors – to the philosophical.
Adding to the intrigue is that fact that the bill has almost no chance of winning a favorable vote from Sears’ committee.
“I suspect it will be voted down in judiciary 2-3,” Sears said.
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