The approval of an assisted suicide bill in Vermont brings to a close a 10-year battle in the state over the issue and delivers the third state-level victory for advocates seeking to advance the policy nationwide.
But the national implications for the bill — which won legislative approval Monday night and allows doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to some terminally ill patients — are tough to pinpoint.
Backers were quick to say the momentum could open the door to advancing similar policies in states that have long resisted them.
“This historic legislative victory proves that the aid-in-dying issue is no longer the third rail of politics,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, who suggested neighboring states might take a fresh look.
But Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who strongly supports the measure and plans to sign it within six days, was more cautious about its implications. He said Vermont’s action will surely influence the country’s dialogue on end-of-life issues, but he acknowledged his state’s path to legalizing assisted suicide is the result of a decadelong internal debate.
“We’ve had a very respectful, dignified conversation about a difficult issue where there are strongly held beliefs on both sides,” he said in a phone interview.
As Vermont becomes the first East Coast state to permit physician-assisted suicide, however, some of its neighbors aren’t necessarily so sure. Just last year, Massachusetts voters turned down a similar proposal after a fierce campaign in which a coalition of advocates for the elderly and disabled, anti-abortion groups, the Catholic Church and medical professionals succeeded in turning voters against the plan.

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