Vermont House and Senate Pass Death with Dignity


Vermont made history today!

The Vermont House and Senate both approved the same version of a law based on Oregon’s model Death with Dignity legislation, and the bill now heads to the governor’s desk for signature. In the past, Governor Shumlin has indicated he’ll sign the bill if it reaches his desk. With the Governor’s signature, Vermont becomes the third state with an assisted dying law and the first state to enact this law through a legislative process. A historic achievement.

This achievement comes after over 10 years of diligent work by our partners, Patient Choices Vermont. In August of 2002, dedicated volunteer Dick Walters brought together a group of Vermonters who wanted their state to allow the same rights Oregonians had because of the groundbreaking Death with Dignity Act. Knowing he needed to consult experts in passing this sort of law, he contacted the only organization which had successfully written and passed such a law: Oregon Death with Dignity, the predecessor of the Death with Dignity National Center.

Right from the beginning, the Death with Dignity National Center formed a strong partnership with Dick Walters and his group, Patient Choices Vermont, to advance legislation allowing for safeguarded assisted death, and we’ve been there every step of the way. Over the years, we’ve joined our credibility, knowledge, and connections to end-of-life care experts with Patient Choices’ dedication to Death with Dignity policy reform in their state.

Beyond our countless hours of work lending political experience to help Patient Choices, we connected them to people who’ve seen Oregon’s law in action through their work in hospice and palliative care. One such expert is Ann Jackson, former Executive Director of the Oregon Hospice Association. Reflecting back on her most recent trips to Vermont, Ann said:

What was most different—and gratifying—about Vermont’s experience was that the House and Senate, as whole bodies, were able to discuss or debate the issue. The bills did not die in committee. What was most interesting was the quality of the discussions in committees—thoughtful and looking for good and truthful information.

The House and Senate debates were more about innuendo and lacked depth. This is not criticism—it is expected that committees seek information and learn and teach. What was most frustrating is that Oregon’s credibility is questioned, even when data and independent studies corroborate state findings. The same dire predictions are being made now that were made in Oregon in 1994 and 1997—and proven wrong—and in every state and country that has considered physician-assisted dying before and after.

But today, facts and data won. Oregon’s law now has 15 years of data demonstrating the groundbreaking Death with Dignity Act written by our founding board member Eli Stutsman is no longer an experiment or test case; it now serves as the model for end-of-life care policy reform. All of us here at the Death with Dignity National Center applaud Vermont lawmakers and Patient Choices Vermont for being truly dedicated to patient-centered care and moving one step closer to allowing all Vermonters to determine how to live out their final days when death draws near.

The bill now heads to Governor Shumlin’s desk for final approval. With his signature, Vermont will take the historic step of becoming the first state to enact Death with Dignity through a legislative process.

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