MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The first Legislature in the country to pass an aid-in-dying law may revisit the issue, as a key backer says changes to automatically take effect in mid-2016 would remove too many patient protections.
"We've got to figure out how to keep it safe," Sen. Claire Ayer, the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said of the law passed in 2013.
Oregon and Washington had passed similar laws by voter referendum, but Vermont was the first state to enact a law through its Legislature allowing terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to request lethal medication from a doctor.
Backers in the Senate drummed up the last two votes from two members, both no longer in the Senate, who demanded an amendment that some provisions of the law expire after three years. The former senators, Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, and Robert Hartwell, D-Bennington, said the requirements inserted the government into a conversation they believed should be left to a doctor and patient.
Among the current provisions set to expire next year are:
— A requirement for a psychiatric evaluation if there is any indication that a patient requesting lethal medication has impaired judgment
— A 15-day waiting period between a patient's first and second request for the medication
— A waiting period after the last request before the doctor actually writes a prescription for the lethal drug.
"The state shouldn't have a say in any of this," said Galbraith, who opted not to seek re-election in November. "I would object" to dropping the 2016 changes, "but I don't know that very many people would care about my objections."
Ayer, D-Addison, said her goal would be to focus on the 2016 changes, but it is unclear that she and other supporters could limit the debate.
Keeping the patient protections would fall far short for opponents who would like to see the law repealed, said Guy Page, spokesman for the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Health Care.
Reinstituting the provisions would "move it from an F-minus to an F," he said.