Vt. hearings begin on assisted death bill

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 29, 2013 at 6:00 pm •  Published: January 29, 2013

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont lawmakers considering legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients seeking to end their own lives heard Tuesday from former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, who said her brother's death last month only strengthened her belief that a dying patient's wishes must be paramount.

Kunin, a longtime supporter for assisted suicide legislation, told a state Senate committee that she watched former state Sen. Edgar May slowly slip away last month.

"I was there at his bedside for almost two weeks," Kunin said. "He told me had had made a decision, and he said the words, 'I want to die.'"

The 83-year-old May "made his wishes very, very clear to the physician" at the Veterans Administration hospital in Tucson, Ariz., where he died, Kunin said.

The remarks of the former governor, who served three two-year terms from 1985 to 1990, came as the Senate Health and Welfare Committee began four days of scheduled hearings on legislation dubbed "death with dignity" by its supporters and "physician-assisted suicide" by its opponents.

Oregon has had such a law in place since 1997; Washington state since 2008. Officials and advocates involved in implementing Oregon's law were among those scheduled to testify to Vermont lawmakers this week.

On Tuesday evening, more than 200 people packed the House chamber — the largest room in the Statehouse — to argue both for and against the measure.

Guy Page, of Barre, told of a son who is now in his 20s but had been emotionally disturbed and considered suicide as a teenager. Teachers and counselors had told him not even to consider that an option. Then he saw a debate about assisted death legislation.

Page told lawmakers his son called the assisted suicide idea hypocritical, saying he was told death was "never an option" but apparently fine for others.