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Making It a Reality: Death With Dignity in Vermont

Compassion & Choices continues to make significant progress implementing Vermont’s new death-with-dignity law: the Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life Act. As Director of End-of-Life Resource Center Trish Bernstein points out, “This isn’t just a law; it’s a clinical practice. So we’re developing that core group of responsible doctors, nurses, pharmacists, volunteers and all the other people needed to make this practice viable in Vermont.”

C&C recruited Linda Waite-Simpson as the new state director, and she joined the staff in December. Waite-Simpson, also a member of the Vermont House of Representatives, is a strong proponent of the law and was instrumental in ushering it through the state legislature last year. Director of Policy and Advocacy Ashley Carson Cottingham explains, “Her main role is advocacy for the law – making sure people understand it and can access it, educating the entire state on what it means and that it’s available.” That will include reaching out broadly throughout the medical community and general public, recruiting volunteers and enlisting participating physicians and pharmacists. 

The Vermont attorney general provided a great boost to the implementation efforts this week. In response to scare tactics employed by opponents of the law to dissuade pharmacists from filling prescriptions, the attorney general issued a statement allaying any false fears: ” … a pharmacist does not violate the law and does not face liability for filling a prescription consistent with the terms of the statute … .”

C&C efforts to help build awareness about the law have been underway for some time. Bonnie and Peter Reagan, two Oregon physicians who participate in their state’s law, represented Compassion & Choices when they spoke at last fall’s Vermont Ethics Network’s annual conference, Vermont’s New Normal: End-of-Life Care and Physician Aid in Dying. C&C also sponsored a booth at the event. Most recently, Compassion & Choices staff held an informational meeting with Vermont Ethics Network and Patient Choices Vermont that detailed exactly what happens when someone calls a C&C end-of-life consultant at 800.247.7421. And at the end of January, C&C will host a booth at the Vermont 50-Plus & Baby Boomers Expo in Burlington.

To learn more about the steady strides Compassion & Choices is making in Vermont and how you can help, visit our Vermont page.