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Vermont Gov. Signs First Death-with-Dignity Law Passed by Legislature in Nation

Historic Achievement is Breakthrough in Death-with-Dignity Movement

CONTACT: Sean Crowley
[email protected]  

by Compassion & Choices staff

(Washington, D.C. – May 20, 2013) Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin’s signing into law at 2pm today of the nation’s first death-with-dignity bill passed by a legislature is a “breakthrough” moment, according to the nation’s leading end-of-life choice advocacy group, Compassion & Choices. Vermont also will become the first eastern state and fourth state nationwide where aid in dying clearly is legal and accessible starting immediately.

“This historic achievement is a political breakthrough that will boost support for death-with-dignity bills nationwide,” said Compassion & Choices President Barbara Coombs Lee, an ER and ICU nurse and physician assistant for 25 years who co-authored the nation’s first Death-with-Dignity law in Oregon and was a senior advisor on the successful campaign to pass the Death-with-Dignity law in Washington state, both of which were approved by citizen-passed ballot initiatives and served as models for the Vermont legislation. 

The Vermont law will let dying, mentally competent people determine when they have endured enough suffering and empowers them to end their lives with dignity. Specifically, it will provide 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.

“Gov. Shumlin and Vermont legislators have shattered a barrier by becoming the first politicians to show the courage to enact a death-with-dignity law,” added Coombs Lee.  “Given the high margin of public support for end-of-life choices nationwide, it is only amatter of time before legislatures in Massachusetts,New Jersey, and other states that are currently considering death-with-dignity bills enact them into law.”

Oregon and Washington enacted aid-in-dying laws thru citizen-passed ballot initiatives in 1994 and 2008, respectively. In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by Compassion & Choices, Baxter v. Montanathat the state’s public policy supports mentally competent, terminally ill patients being able to choose aid in dying.

The Vermont law will have requirements similar to the Oregon and Washington laws, but the Vermont requirements will expire after a three-year period. Then the Vermont law will follow the model in Montana, where professional practice standards have successfully governed the practice of aid in dying.