Vermont

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With Governor Peter Shumlin's signature on May 20, 2013, Vermont became the third state to enact a Death with Dignity law—the first in New England and the first to be passed through legislation. The law went into effect immediately.

It's Been One Year Since Vermont Made History

One year ago today, Vermont made history. May 20, 2013, was the day Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill to make Vermont the third state in the US with a Death with Dignity law—the first law of its kind on the East Coast, and the first passed through the legislative process. I was honored to be among the crowd which gathered to witness the bill signing ceremony. What a day!

It was a day full of emotion and elation. Some folks at the ceremony were facing serious illnesses and were relieved to know they'd have more options if their prognoses became terminal. People who'd carefully considered what's best for themselves their entire lives simply wanted more control over their final days. Each person I talked to recognized that what might be the best decision for one person may not be what others would choose, but one truth prevailed: all individuals should be able to make that decision for themselves.

Read more: It's Been One Year Since Vermont Made History

Engaging Allies and Learning the Issue

The Organizing Cycle care of COPA

Three states have laws permitting Death with Dignity: Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Two have positive court decisions determining physicians cannot be prosecuted for prescribing medications to hasten death under certain narrow circumstances: Montana and New Mexico (under appeal). But if you live in another state and you want to help enact a Death with Dignity law, what steps can you take? This is the second in a series of five blog posts about early organizing efforts you can undertake to help pave the way for passing a law in your state.

In the first, I focused on the important first step of talking to your friends, neighbors, and family members about Death with Dignity and end-of-life care policy reform.

One of the interesting things about talking to your colleagues with intent about death and dying issues is you will find strong support in areas you did not even know existed. One political organizer told me she thought our supporters were as dedicated as the most dedicated volunteers in politics (teachers and firefighters are the most dedicated, in case you're curious).

Read more: Engaging Allies and Learning the Issue

So You Want to Pass a Death with Dignity Law in Your State

The number one constituent question we get at the National Center is, "what do I need to do to pass a Death with Dignity law in my state?" The answer is never easy because enacting a Death with Dignity law through the legislative process or ballot initiative is a complex, time-intensive, and expensive endeavor.

In a legislative environment, lawmakers are afraid of legislation focused on death even though repeated polls show a majority of Americans support Death with Dignity laws. Ballot initiatives are costly and time-consuming, requiring years of background work and the engagement of expensive professional political advisors nearly every step of the way.

The unfortunate reality is, while there's a lot of activity and momentum in the New England region, not every state is ready to move forward immediately with Death with Dignity policy reform.

There are, however, lots of things you can do in your own state to jumpstart momentum and engage others in your request to push for reform, and I'm writing a five-part blog post about different ways to begin the process of legislative engagement in your state. Today's post is focused on identifying allies because one thing is certain: you cannot do this alone.

Read more: So You Want to Pass a Death with Dignity Law in Your State

Momentum from Coast to Coast

"In all likelihood, with all the momentum built during the Vermont and Massachusetts efforts, the next states to achieve Death with Dignity policy reform will be in the movement's current center of activity—New England."

- Peg Sandeen, Executive Director
Death with Dignity National Center
American Society on Aging's publication Aging Today.

Peg's article in the November/December issue of Aging Today (and published online in January) offered a look at where the debate over end-of-life healthcare policy reform is heating up: the Northeast. Much of this is tied to the increased awareness and understanding of Death with Dignity laws resulting from the recent near victory in Massachusetts and last year's historic achievement in Vermont.

Legislative sessions are back in full swing in most states, and already Death with Dignity bills are being proposed anew or carried over if they were still active. I track these bills throughout the year, and you can stay up-to-date by visiting our legislative tracking page.

Some highlights:

Read more: Momentum from Coast to Coast

Help Us Prepare for 2014

Penny Shelfer

I can't believe how quickly this year's flown by. Thankfully, there's still time to make your donation and get your 2013 tax deduction!

Your gift will make it possible for us to continue working with advocates like Penny in Texas. A few years back, Penny learned she had stage III breast cancer, and like many who face a grave cancer diagnosis, the first word that came to mind was Death. Prolonged and pain filled.

The fear she faced led her to research different end-of-life options and the Death with Dignity laws we promote. Knowing our organization is there to help gave her comfort and peace of mind.

The national conversation about Death with Dignity is growing and changing at a faster pace than ever, and we look forward to building our local partnerships with advocates like Penny.

Your year-end, tax-deductible donation today will get us ready for the challenges ahead. Thank you.

Read more: Help Us Prepare for 2014

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Defend dignity. Take action.

You are the key to ensuring well-crafted Death with Dignity laws for all Americans. With your financial and volunteer help, the Death with Dignity National Center, a 501(c)(3), non-partisan, non-profit organization, has been the leading advocate in the death with dignity movement. Member contributions helped us pass a new Death with Dignity law in Washington, defend the Oregon law, and provide education and outreach programs for the vitality of the death with dignity movement.

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