Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed legislation [text, PDF; bill summary, PDF] Monday that legalizes physician-assisted suicide in the state. This bill makes Vermont the fourth state in the US to approve the practice. The Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act (aka "Death with Dignity" bill), was passed [JURIST report] by the legislature earlier this month. Under the new law, mentally competent patients who have been diagnosed with six months to live will be permitted to request that the doctor proscribe a lethal dose of narcotic. The doctor will be required to follow specific procedures relating to obtaining patient consent. The law creates a 48-hour waiting period before the doctor may write the prescription. The provisions take effect in July and will expire after three years.
The right to die [JURIST news archive] has been a contentious issue around the world. The only European countries that allow assisted suicide are Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Earlier this month the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that Swiss law does not provide sufficient guidelines on the extent of the right to die. Last month the Supreme Court of Ireland rejected an appeal [JURIST report] by a paralyzed woman seeking to allow her partner to help her commit suicide. Although Ireland decriminalized suicide in 1993, it is still a crime to assist another to commit suicide. In December a report released by the French government recommended [JURIST report] that the country permit doctors to "accelerate death" for terminally ill patients seeking doctor-assisted euthanasia. In August the High Court of England and Wales denied [JURIST report] the plea of a paralyzed man challenging the legitimacy of the Suicide Act 1961 and other laws barring his ability to commit suicide.