By a vote of 10 to 5, a Virginia Senate committee passed a "natural death" bill today that would give terminally ill people the right to order that their lives not be prolonged by artificial means.
The Senate Education and Health Committee rejected a controversial amendment sought by the Richmond Catholic diocese that would have exempted pregnant women from the measure. "I think it's great the bill passed, but I'm sorry the amendment didn't," said diocesan attorney Nicholas Spinella, who had lobbied for the amendment. It would have restored the pregnant women's exemption deleted by the House of Delegates after women's groups waged a furious campaign against it.
"Even though I support the amendment, I don't think we can continue to cry over it," Spinella said. Several weeks ago he told a House committee that diocesan support for the measure depended on adoption of the exemption for pregnant women. "After I thought about it I saw the amendment might have serious constitutional problems because abortion is legal," he said yesterday. "I feel the bill is just too important to oppose, so I'll be pushing for it."
Sen. John Buchanan (D-Wise), a physician, opposed the measure and said he feared it would not lead to "death with dignity but murder with impunity. I'm afraid this is a foot in the door and in the next year or so we'd be getting bills for euthanasia."
Buchanan's views were echoed by Geline Williams, director of the National Right to Life Committee who had lobbied against the bill, which is similar to ones adopted by 14 other states. Both Williams and the bill's sponsor, Del. Bernard S. Cohen (D-Alexandria), predicted that the measure's strong showing in committee meant/it was likely to pass the Senate next week.