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Vermont Legislature Becomes First in the United States to Approve Aid-in-Dying Bill

Update Date: May 14, 2013 01:48 PM EDT

Vermont legislators have approved an aid-in-dying bill that will allow patients with a terminal illness to receive lethal doses of prescription medicine if they so choose. The bill, which will likely be signed by the state's governor, means that Vermont will be the fourth state to allow such assisted deaths. Vermont is the first state east of the Mississippi to have such a law, and the first state where the law has been approved by the legislature.

According to NBC News, the bill was approved last night, and would follow in the footsteps of Montana, Oregon and Washington. In Oregon and Washington, the laws were put in place by voter initiatives, while in Montana the law was instituted by a court mandate. However, Montana also has a bill in its legislature that will ban the practice, according to Reuters. Governor Peter Shumlin, a strong supporter, has stated that he would sign the bill after reading all of the text.

For the first three years, the bill would follow the template set by Oregon's law. It would require patients with a terminal illness to state their wish to die three times, once in writing. Patients would need a second opinion by another doctor. Patients would need to have a clear mind and to state their wishes by two uninterested parties - no family members, no hospital workers and no potential heirs. After the first three years, the law would become more lenient. Patients would need to wait 17 days before filling the prescription and there is the potential for a psychiatric exam, AFP reports.

Supporters say that they expect 20 people to ask for the lethal dose in the first year and six to take it, arguing that the bill allows "death with dignity". Since Oregon has approved just a measure, 1,050 patients have asked for the drug and 673 have taken it.

Opponents of the bill say that there is the potential for abuse, the Associated Press reports. They say that people may take their lives because heirs ask them to, or because they feel like burdens on their families.

Seven states, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire and New Jersey, have similar bills in place, though bills in three states - Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine - have failed since November. However, a 2010 Harris poll issued for BBC World News America indicates strong support for aid in dying; 70 percent of Americans said that people who are terminally ill, in great pain or have no chance of recovering should be allowed to put an end to their lives.

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