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Vermont’s Death-With-Dignity Law: One Year Old and Working Well

This week marked the one-year anniversary (May 20) of Vermont becoming the first state to enact a dignity-in-dying bill into law passed by a legislature.

The Associated Press and the state’s largest newspaper, The Burlington Free Press, produced news stories quoting Compassion & Choices Vermont State Director Linda Waite-Simpson. The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and 45 other state and national media outlets picked up the AP story.

In addition, The Rutland Herald published Linda’s op-ed about how the law is being implemented exactly as we expected: carefully and deliberately.

In fact, for all practical purposes, the law did not take effect until months after enactment, following the completion of the rule-making process, creation of Department of Health forms and training of physicians by doctors who have utilized Oregon’s death-with-dignity law upon which the Vermont law is modeled:

“The Vermont law provides criminal, civil and professional protections for physicians who prescribe medication to mentally competent, terminally ill adults who may choose to take it if the dying process becomes unbearable. Participation in the law by patients, pharmacists and physicians is entirely voluntary.

“While federal and state laws protect the identity of patients, we now have a year’s worth of data about the Vermont law, the Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act.

“While few people die by taking the prescribed medication, many people consider the option and are reassured that it exists. Some complete the eligibility process but never take the medication. Many achieve comfort and peace of mind knowing they have a full range of end-of-life choices. For them, having what they call their ‘insurance policy’ dramatically improves the quality of life’s final days.

“The number of terminally ill adults who take the medication in Oregon has held steady at an average of 0.2 percent of the state’s annual deaths. Vermont may or may not experience a similar utilization rate of the law as more of our state residents become familiar with it. Naturally, it will take patience and time for physicians, hospices, pharmacists, patients and their families to learn about their rights and protections under the law …

We all deserve the same tranquility and choice at the end of our life.”

You can read Linda’s complete op-ed in The Rutland Herald by clicking here.

You can read The Burlington Free Press story quoting Linda by clicking here.

You can read the AP story quoting Linda by clicking here.