"Death with dignity debate tabled"
By Susie Steimie, March 16, 2012
MONTPELIER, Vt. -
The death with dignity debate has been tabled and a state senator is in the hospital. The vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Alice Nitka, is currently in the hospital after an accident at her home Thursday. The committee was expected to vote on the controversial end of life bill Friday.
The bill would give terminally ill patients the right to end their own life. But instead of voting Friday, the chair met with Gov. Peter Shumlin to say the bill will not move.
This session marks the first hearing of the end of life bill in a Vermont Senate committee. But lawmakers say most of the work was done behind closed doors.
Reporter Susie Steimle: How much would you say politics have come into play here? Sen. Diane Snelling: Quite a bit.
"Oh yeah, there's been some strong pressure. But there's strong pressure on a lot of bills. But this is an emotional bill; it hits everyone," said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County.
Sears is holding his ground. He said the bill would not leave his committee this session. We now know that it won't.
As a seasoned senator with the president pro-tem on his side, much of the political pressure to keep this bill from moving came from him. On the other side it came from the governor, who supports the bill.
"When you're a good friend like I am with the governor, it's hard to tell when it's friendship and when it's pressure. But I know he's disappointed with the decision," Sears said.
The committee held extensive testimony this week, which drew hundreds of Vermonters from across the state.
Snelling, who supports the bill, says she fears this gave people false hope.
"I almost wish we hadn't taken testimony, which we did take, because in a sense that gets people to think something is going to happen," said Snelling, R-Chittenden County.
Snelling wanted to send this bill out of committee without recommendation, something Sears calls "wimpy."
"Saying we voted it out without recommendation is like saying we don't have the courage to stand up for what we believe," Sears said.
"I wish that this bill could come to the floor and I've heard from many people on both sides that it's a matter of conscience, in which case, let's vote on our conscience," Snelling said.
Snelling says at this point she's accepted defeat for this session, but that doesn't mean she's giving up.
"It's a difficult issue, I know it's a difficult issue, but I didn't come here to do easy things. So it's very important to stand on the strength of my convictions," Snelling said.
Both senators say it's likely some supporters of the end of life bill will try to attach it to the health care bill, which will be voted on later this session, but neither senator believes it will pass that way. Snelling says she expects it will be back next session.
Supporters don't know if there are enough votes to pass it in the Senate. It's extremely divided. I've heard the vote could be 16-14 either way, but part of the controversy here is this is truly a Senate battle; the House is ready to pass it and the governor supports it.