VT Doctors Fight Assisted-Suicide Rules

     RUTLAND, Vt. (CN) – A coalition of medical professionals claims in court that Vermont law requiring doctors to counsel certain patients about the option of assisted suicide conflicts with their ethical or religious views.
     Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations say that Vermont’s Death with Dignity law violates the religious freedom of Christian medical professionals who are ethically opposed to assisted suicide.
     The Vermont Legislature passed Act 39 in 2013, which legalized doctor-assisted suicide. The original version of the bill passed in 2013 with several provision set to expire in 2016. The state government amended the bill to remove the sunset clauses in 2015, making the bill permanent.
     The law requires that doctors, regardless of their ethical position on assisted suicide, inform patients that Vermont allows assisted suicide. If the doctor has a moral objection to providing that information, he or she must be willing to refer the patient to another healthcare provider who will inform the patient.
     “This is nothing but the redefinition of ‘palliative care’ to mean providing assisted suicide, an intolerable position for plaintiffs and other healthcare professionals with conscientious objections to participating in this practice,” according to a lawsuit filed July 19 in Vermont Federal Court.
     The doctors sued members of the Vermont Board of Medical Practice, Vermont Secretary of State James Condos and Colin Benjamin, director of the Office of Professional Regulation.
     The lawsuit is supported by the Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, a national law group that defends religious freedom cases such as those involving prayer in school, or wedding professionals who wish to exclusively support heterosexual marriage.
     “The government shouldn’t be telling health care professionals that they must violate their medical ethics in order to practice medicine,” ADF Senior Counsel Steven Aden said. “These doctors and other health care workers deeply believe that suffering patients need understanding and sound medical treatment, not encouragement to kill themselves. The state has no authority to order them to act contrary to that sincere and time-honored conviction.”
     The plaintiffs argue that requiring physicians to provide information or assistance in patient suicide runs contrary to a centuries-old traditional of medicine.
     “For 2,500 years the medical profession has forbidden doctors from giving patients lethal drugs. Society has relied on this prohibition and has trusted physicians to be healers when that is possible, and to provide comfort when healing is no longer possible,” the 32-page complaint states.
     The doctors seek a declaratory judgment that Vermont’s assisted-suicide law is in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. They are represented by Michael Tierney of Wadleigh, Starr & Peters, and by ADF attorneys.

%d bloggers like this: