By Gudrun Schultz

  BURLINGTON, Vermont, February 23, 2007 ( – The Vermont legislature is set to begin a week of debate on assisted suicide, following the introduction of a House bill that would see Vermont follow Oregon in authorizing doctors to prescribe lethal medication.

  A bill mimicking Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law was presented in the House early in the 2007-2008 legislative session. Entitled “Patient Choice and Control at End of Life,” House Bill 44 was signed by five sponsors including two Democrats, a Republican, a Progressive and an independent.

  Debate on the volatile issue will open Friday with presentations from leaders on both sides of the argument before a House committee, the Associated Press reported earlier today, as well as a public hearing to gain a sense of public opinion on the issue.

  While observers say there is more support for assisted-suicide legislation in the legislature this year, opposition is significant and many Representatives have said they are undecided or opposed.

  Advocates for the disabled have been among the strongest objectors, led by the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights.

“This bill is an insurance bill to protect doctors and insurance companies from any responsibilities if a ‘request’ for physician assisted suicide goes wrong,” the Coalition’s legislative branch said in a statement.

  Language issues remain a key factor in the suicide debate, with assisted suicide activists steering clear of using the term “suicide” in an effort to increase public support for the practice. While “assisted death” or “death with dignity” have been favorite substitute terms among euthanasia proponents,  activists in the Vermont debate have retreated even farther from the term “suicide”, substituting the phrase, “Patient choice and control at end of life.”

  Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas said while he supported the concept of death with dignity, he was opposed to doctor-assisted suicide.

“We need to make it dignified, we need to make it pain-free,” Douglas said. “But to empower physicians—who take an oath to alleviate pain and do no harm—to hasten death is a step in the wrong direction.”

  The Vermont Right to Life Committee has said one week of debate is not sufficient to address the issues before the bill goes to vote by the committee.

“This is not a simple little bill,” Mary Hahn Beer worth, with Right to Life, told the AP. “This is a sea change in public policy.”

  Read full text of House Bill 44:

  See related LifeSiteNews coverage:

  Oregon Switch to “Softer” Assisted Suicide Language Fueled by Efforts to Increase Public Support

‘Right’ to be Dehydrated Key Right to Die Strategy”

“Religious Right” most feared by Euthanasia Movement”

  Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide”