“Let’s be very clear. This bill does not compel anyone to do anything they don’t choose in sound mind to do. All it does is give those who are facing terminal illness and are facing excruciating pain a choice in a very carefully regulated way.”
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, May 20, 2013
Signing ceremony for Vermont’s Death with Dignity law
Along with Death with Dignity National Center board member George Eighmey, I had the honor of being in the Vermont State House on Monday when lawmakers made history when Gov Shumlin made history by signing the third Death with Dignity law in the US—the first one to be passed through a legislative process and first of its kind in New England. Governor Shumlin, who’s advocated prominently for such a law since before he became governor in 2010, delivered a moving speech about why everyone should have the right to determine the timing and manner of their deaths. Two of the legislative champions, Senator Ayer and Speaker Smith, spoke about why they too worked so hard to make this law a reality this legislative session.
It was an emotional day not only for the publicly elected advocates of safeguarded assisted death, but for all the supporters who packed into the State House room for the signing ceremony Monday afternoon. Many of these supporters have volunteered hundreds of hours over the years to support the work of our local partners, Patient Choices Vermont. I’ve personally worked closely with many of them via telephone, email, and through social media since I started working at the Death with Dignity National Center three years ago, and it was an incredible experience to finally meet these individuals who are to making sure all people have the basic human right to expanded end-of-life options.
What I was most struck by in my brief visit to Vermont was how similar it was to Oregon in many ways. Their spring weather was just getting started, and I felt right at home in the scattered showers. Many of the plants, just leafing out, were easily recognizable. And perhaps the most striking similarity was the fiercely independent spirit shared by Oregonians and Vermonters. People in both states carefully consider what’s best for them throughout their lives, and they have a deep respect for one anothers’ differing opinions. Individuals in both states understand while something might be the best decision for one person, it may not be what others would choose.
And these principles are fundamental to Death with Dignity laws. People who’ve made all the major decisions in their lives—whether or when to get married, buy a house, have children—typically also want to have the option to make their final decision about how they die. As Governor Shumlin said during his speech, Death with Dignity “does not compel anyone to do anything they don’t choose in sound mind to do.” It’s the decision of a terminally ill, mentally competent individual, and no one else.
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