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Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

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Vermont healthcare workers fight state to protect conscience rights in assisted suicide

Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

BURLINGTON, Vermont, July 21, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Vermont healthcare professionals are suing to be able to abide by the medical profession's ancient creed, "I will do no harm."

The state of Vermont is attempting to force healthcare workers to advise patients on doctor-assisted suicide.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, accuses the Vermont Board of Medical Practice and the Office of Professional Regulation of misapplying the state's assisted suicide law, called "Act 39," to require healthcare workers to counsel patients on suicide as an option of "palliative care."

The healthcare professionals, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), say it is unethical to facilitate or participate in killing a patient. They also say to force them to advise patients against their sincerely held beliefs is a violation of their constitutional rights.

“The government shouldn’t be telling healthcare professionals that they must violate their medical ethics in order to practice medicine,” Steven Aden, ADF senior counsel, explained. “These doctors and other healthcare 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,” Aden said.

Even though Act 39 includes protections for healthcare providers, the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) has "construed a separate, existing mandate to counsel and refer for 'all options' for palliative care to include the option of assisted suicide,” an ADF press release explained.

“This is nothing but the redefinition of ‘palliative care’ to mean providing assisted suicide," the lawsuit, Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare v. Hoser, states.  The healthcare workers call this "an intolerable position for Plaintiffs and other conscientious physicians and healthcare professionals.” 

"This conscience rights lawsuit in Vermont is fundamental to the freedom of medical professionals everywhere in America," Alex Schadenberg, the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told LifeSiteNews. "This case is attempting to protect the freedom of all medical professionals to protect patients that need excellent care and not a lethal prescription."

"It was a travesty of justice and equality when Vermont passed their assisted suicide bill in 2013," Schadenberg explained. "It is a further injustice to Vermont Medical Professionals that the Vermont Board of Medical Practice and the Office of Professional Regulation is trying to force physicians, who oppose involvement in killing their patients, to refer their suicidal patients to a physician who will kill."

"Medical professionals across America need to get behind the ADF Vermont lawsuit," he concluded.

The law itself would seem to side with the plaintiffs. The VDH website states "every step must be voluntary by both the patient and the physician."

To the question, "Are all doctors, nurses and pharmacists required to participate in Act 39?" the website answers, "No. Participation by any healthcare professional is completely voluntary." The website also says pharmacists are "not required" to participate.

And yet, the website includes a seemingly contradictory statement. "If a doctor is unwilling to inform a patient, he or she must make a referral or otherwise arrange for the patient to receive all relevant information," including suicide as "relevant information."  It further states that because "a patient has the right to be informed of all options for care," including suicide as an option for "care."

The healthcare professionals explain in their legal complaint that they are suing on behalf of "state and national associations of conscientious healthcare professionals whose personal and professional ethics oppose the practice of assisted suicide."

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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