End-of-Life Choice, Palliative Care and Counseling

Vermont Becomes First Legislature to Approve Death-with-Dignity Legislationby Chris

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by Compassion & Choices Staff

CONTACT: Sean Crowley, 202-550-6524
scrowley@compassionandchoices.org

Politics Shift as Lawmakers Embrace Nationwide Support for End-of-Life Choices

(Washington, D.C. – May 13, 2013) The nation’s leading end-of-life choice advocacy group, Compassion & Choices, praised the Vermont legislature for becoming the first legislative body in the nation to approve death-with-dignity legislation. Gov. Peter Shumlin has vowed to sign the bill into law.

“This historic legislative victory proves that the aid-in-dying issue is no longer the third rail of politics. In fact, it’s a winning issue on which Gov. Shumlin campaigned,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, an ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant who co-authored the nation’s first Death-with-Dignity law in Oregon and was a senior advisor for the nation’s second Death-with-Dignity law in Washington state, both approved by ballot initiatives. “We congratulate Patient Choices Vermont for its leadership of this multi-year campaign. Their success shows aid in dying has become a legislative winner.”

“Legislators now are embracing the high margin of public support for end-of-life choices nationwide,” added Coombs Lee.  “This bill’s passage should enable legislatures in Massachusetts, New Jersey and other states that are considering aid-in-dying bills to approve them.”

The Vermont bill provides criminal, civil and professional protections for physicians who prescribe medication to mentally competent, terminally ill patients that they can ingest to achieve a peaceful death.  It has requirements similar to the Oregon and Washington laws, but the Vermont requirements would expire after a 3-year period and then professional practice standards would govern the practice of aid in dying.

“Professional practice standards have successfully governed aid in dying in Montana for three years, and for the past two years in Hawaii,” said Compassion & Choices Legal Affairs Director Kathryn Tucker, who testified before both the Vermont House and Senate in favor of the bill and was co-counsel in a landmark case, Baxter v. Montana, in which the Montana Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the public policy of the state supports mentally competent, terminally ill patients being able to choose aid in dying. “Professional practice standards guide all of medicine and it is appropriate for aid in dying to be governed in this manner.”