Inspired by passage of Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, Dick and Ginny Walters wanted the same peace of mind, choice and control for people in their home state of Vermont. So they decided to take action, founding the enormously impactful advocacy organization Patient Choices Vermont in 2002. “We gathered a dedicated group who thought likewise; most of them were physicians,” said Dick. “We created a website. We translated the Oregon law into Vermont language. I started calling legislators, got about 30 or 35 to sign off on the idea, and we were off and running.”
After years of diligence and persistence – and nearly a decade of legislative defeats – they succeeded in helping to pass the Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life bill in 2013.
“It makes ultimate sense to people who have lived their lives in an independent way and don’t want to be reduced to an infantile existence and have other people make decisions for them,” said Dick, a Yale graduate who, with his wife, Ginny, organized supporters in their living room, spurring local momentum for end-of-life issues. Ginny, a Smith College graduate and former physics teacher, ran behind-the-scenes operations for Patient Choices Vermont like maintaining the database of over 5,000 supporters and heading fundraising initiatives.
For their superlative advocacy, Compassion & Choices honored Dick and Ginny with the 2015 Hugh B. Gallagher award, which is given annually to activists who have been the most effective in communicating – especially to those of diverse age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical abilities – the importance of better care and expanded choice at the end of life. Hugh Gallagher, paralyzed from polio as a teenager in the 1950s, was a disability-rights pioneer as well as influential proponent of gay rights and end-of-life choice who served on the board of directors of a C&C predecessor organization.
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin commended their tireless work to pass Vermont’s aid-in-dying law in a proclamation on June 4.
Dick and Ginny also celebrate their 90th birthdays and 70th wedding anniversary this year. Says Dick, who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, “Like so many Vermonters, I have peace of mind knowing that if someday in the future my suffering becomes intolerable, I will have choice and control. We all deserve tranquility and choice at the end of our lives.”