Courts & Corrections

Physician-assisted suicide law survives legal challenge

Vermont’s law permitting physician-assisted suicide will stay in place, now that a federal court has dismissed a lawsuit that Christian groups brought in July challenging the law.

Judge Geoffrey Crawford, for U.S. District Court of Vermont in Rutland, dismissed the case Wednesday on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the lawsuit. The decision effectively keeps the controversial law in place.

The plaintiffs, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare Inc. and Christian Medical and Dental Associations Inc. alleged that Vermont’s physician-assisted suicide law, Act 39 of 2013, violates the U.S. Constitution.

The groups said that even though the law does not require all physicians to write lethal prescriptions for patients who are seeking them, doctors who disagree with physician-assisted suicide should not be required to refer patients to other doctors who may be willing to write the prescription.

The lawsuit claimed that requiring doctors to refer patients seeking physician-assisted suicide was a violation of their rights under the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech and religion, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides equal protection under the law.

The defendants were the director of the Vermont Medical Practice Board, the members of the Vermont Medical Practice Board, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State’s Office of Professional Regulation.

The Attorney General’s office represented the state in court, and moved to dismiss the case.

“Plaintiffs challenge requirements that do not exist (in Act 39), and object to practices they have no obligation to carry out,” the Attorney General’s office argued. “They allege no injury sufficient to support (legal) standing and their claims fail as a matter of law.”

Crawford said the court reviewed Act 39 in detail “to determine whether the Act imposes any obligation on physicians who do not choose to prescribe lethal medication or in other way participate in assisted suicide” and concluded, “the answer is that Act 39 does not.”

“With no affirmative obligations under Act 39, the plaintiffs’ Vermont members may not need the court’s protection,” the decision said. “Vermont members are not at risk, even when they care for a terminally ill patient otherwise eligible for assisted suicide and fail to inform their patient because the Act contains no duty to counsel or prescribe a lethal dose of medication.”

Steven H. Aden, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in the press release Wednesday that doctors “face a very real conflict in this situation” and are “definitely exploring their legal options” in the wake of the decision.

“Vermont health care workers just want to act consistently with their reasonable and time-honored convictions without fear of government punishment,” Aden said.

Since the law passed in 2013, the Department of Health has received 49 requests from patients seeking to hasten the end of their life in accordance with Act 39.

If you read us, please support us.

Comment Policy requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer.

We moderate every comment. Please go to our FAQ for the full policy.

Erin Mansfield

Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Physician-assisted suicide law survives legal challenge"
  • Todd Spayth

    “Since the law passed in 2013, the Department of Health has received 49
    requests from patients seeking to hasten the end of their life in
    accordance with Act 39.”

    Why do these Christians INSIST on forcing their beliefs on everyone? If you do not endorse an act, do not engage in it. Do NOT try and impose your will on others. Do not for a minute think all people should think or believe the things you do.

    Additionally, how many of those 49 actually used the medicine to terminate their lives? I’ll bet it was less than half. The fact that it was an option for those folks probably added some level of comfort.

    • rosemariejackowski

      The problem is that some elderly/disabled will be ‘encouraged’ to end their lives against their own will. The so called safeguards are not fool proof. The most vulnerable among us are at increased risk.

  • Bradley Williams

    All is not well where assisted suicide is legal. The foundation of assisted suicide movement is crumbling under the weight of non transparent pitfalls. There is documented abuse see Thomas Middleton Fed case where he was killed via the OR policy for his assets. A public policy failure.
    I was my wife’s 24/7 caregiver during her last 18 months of declining autonomy.
    Pitfalls in assisted suicide laws need attention. We already have the right to refuse treatment. Many who believe in the concept under the choice banner have second-thoughts org when they read the language of the actual bill and realize our choice is Ignored and certainly not assured.
    This is not about people who are dying anyway.
    Amending Colorado’s Prop 106 is sorely needed (and OR,WA,CA). The initiative a monopoly and profit center was bought for $8,000,000 of deception. Even as they proclaimed that the poison must be self administered they did not provide for an ordinary witness. The difference is that without a witness it allows forced euthanasia but with a witness they would up hold individual choice.

    Amendments would include requiring a witness to the self administration, restore the illegality of falsifying the death certificate require the posting of the poison applied in the medical record for the sake of good stewardship for future studies, register organ/tissue trafficking, reveal commissions and memorials paid to the corporate facilitators and keep all records for transparent public safety policy.
    These Oregon model bills do not assure our choice and ignore our choice by empowering predatory corporations over us.
    Bradley Williams
    MTaas org

  • Mary Daly

    This is ridiculous! The law never should have been passed in the first place. If someone wants to die there are innumerable ways to do that without including physicians who take an oath to do “No harm.”