MONTPELIER, Vt. — A medical ethics group and a Christian doctors’ group have challenged Vermont regulators who say that doctors must tell patients about assisted suicide or refer them to someone who will.
“The government shouldn’t be telling health-care professionals that they must violate their medical ethics in order to practice medicine,” said Steven Aden, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom. “Because the state has no authority to order them to act contrary to that sincere and time-honored conviction, we are asking the court to ensure that no state agency is able to do that while this lawsuit moves forward.”
Aden’s organization, a religious-liberty group, has filed a lawsuit against officials in the Vermont Board of Medical Practice and the Office of Professional Regulation.
The lawsuit’s plaintiffs, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Christian Medical and Dental Association, object to state officials’ requirements that could force physicians to refer for assisted suicide under the 2013 assisted-suicide law passed as Act 39, the Patient Control at End of Life Act.
“Vermont’s Act 39 makes the state the first and only one to mandate that all licensed health-care professionals counsel terminal patients about the availability and procedures for physician-assisted suicide and refer them to willing prescribers to dispense the death-dealing drug,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit charges that the law “coerces professionals to counsel patients about the ‘benefits’ of assisted suicide” that the plaintiffs and their members do not believe exist.
The Vermont Department of Health has published on its website a document of frequently asked questions on Act 39, which allows doctors to approve lethal drugs for terminally ill patients who desire to kill themselves.
One question about assisted suicide is: “Do doctors have to tell patients about this option?”
It answers that the legislation and another law called the Patient’s Bill of Rights mean “a patient has the right to be informed of all options for care and treatment.”
“If a doctor is unwilling to inform a patient, he or she must make a referral or otherwise arrange for the patient to receive all relevant information,” the document says.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction against enforcement of the law against those who decline to counsel or refer patients with terminal conditions for physician-assisted suicide. Enforcement of the law is “imminent,” the suit says.
The lawsuit charges that state officials’ actions contradict a federal law that protects the conscience rights of health professionals who object to participation in assisted suicide.
Vermont’s assisted suicide bill included some protections for health-care providers opposed to the procedure.
Alliance Defending Freedom characterized these protections as “very limited.” They only protect attending physicians who do not wish to dispense lethal drugs themselves.