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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.

This Week in the Movement

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Throughout the week, we keep people up-to-date with information about the Death with Dignity movement and other topics related to end-of-life care through Facebook and Twitter. Below are highlights from this week.

Efforts regarding Death with Dignity:

Read more: This Week in the Movement

Vermont House Committee Decides to Focus on Bill Language with Safeguards

Dr. Angell testifying in VT. Photo care of Patient Choices

Great news from Vermont today! After hearing testimony from various end-of-life care experts, advocates, and some opponents over the last two weeks, the Vermont House Human Services Committee decided to focus on bill language with safeguards modeled on the Oregon Death with Dignity legislation. All of us here at the Death with Dignity National Center applaud the Vermont House committee members on their decision and extend an enormous thank you to our partners, Patient Choices Vermont, for all of their hard work to get to this historic moment.

But let's step back a moment, and get everyone caught up. Back in February, the Vermont Senate advanced Senate Bill 77 after drastically amending the language of the bill to remove the safeguards similar to the Oregon and Washington Death with Dignity Acts, and moved the bill to the state House for consideration. The bill was introduced and filed with the Vermont House Human Services Committee. Because the House Judiciary Committee is likely to be involved if Human Services decides to change the bill back to be more in line with the existing Death with Dignity laws, the two House Committees held joint hearings to gather testimony.

Read more: Vermont House Committee Decides to Focus on Bill Language with Safeguards

New England Journal of Medicine Looks at Washington's Death with Dignity Act

Dr. Remmel with his sons, photo provided to NBC News by Grace Wang

When Washington's Death with Dignity Act took effect in 2009, medical groups throughout the state took the law's built-in safeguards as a guide for formulating their own internal policies for honoring their terminally ill patients' new legal rights. One of these institutions, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, just published an analysis of their experience with patients who requested the prescribed medication in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their conclusion: "Overall, our Death with Dignity program has been well accepted by patients and clinicians."

Echoing what we've seen through the Washington Department of Health's annual reports of usage, this study found the law is used by a small minority of the clinic's patients and "patients and families were grateful to receive the lethal prescription, whether it was used or not."

Read more: New England Journal of Medicine Looks at Washington's Death with Dignity Act

Vermont House Committees Hear Testimony on Death with Dignity Bill

Patient Choices VT Ad "Now--Not in 10 Years"

The proposed Vermont Death with Dignity bill started its journey through the state's House of Representatives in earnest this week. The bill (Senate Bill 77) took some unusual turns before being approved by the Senate on February 14th of this year. This week, House Judiciary and Human Services committees heard from Senators about the bill's path in the Senate and end-of-life care experts familiar with the need for safeguards in Death with Dignity laws.

The hearings started on Wednesday with Sen. Claire Ayer explaining the process the bill went through in the Senate. She was followed by many people with extensive knowledge about Death with Dignity laws including Jean Mallary—widow of Vermont Congressman Richard Mallary.

Hearings continued on Thursday and included supportive testimony from several notables: two former governors, Barbara Roberts from Oregon and Madeleine Kunin from Vermont; Harry Chen, Vermont Commissioner of Public Health; George Eighmey, the newest Death with Dignity National Center board member, former Oregon legislator, and former executive director of the Oregon nonprofit which works directly with patients to access the state's Death with Dignity Act; and respected palliative care physician Diana Barnard.

Read more: Vermont House Committees Hear Testimony on Death with Dignity Bill

Standing at the Precipice of Monumental Change

On the precipice; photo by Steve A Johnson on Flickr

There's no question: losing an election is painful. Looking around the room on election night at the dejected volunteers and staff members who had invested hours of time and energy in the Massachusetts Dignity 2012 campaign, I knew there would be a necessary re-building and healing time.

As an individual who's looked up to for leadership in our movement, I had to quickly recover from my own disappointments and act like the role model I'm viewed as. Easier said than done, I learned.

I read a book about struggling at work, and I was reminded struggles are the result of taking a chance, of doing something new and different outside of one's comfort zone. I spent some time reading leadership advice from sports greats, and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky said it most clearly, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take."

The recovery was slow, but the most difficult part has passed. When I look at the activity all over the nation, I know the loss in Massachusetts marked the precipice of monumental change for the movement. We're involved in active campaigns all over New England. Groundbreaking Death with Dignity policy reform is underway in Vermont; New Jersey is considering a referendum to put Death with Dignity on the ballot for voters to decide. Connecticut is making a serious legislative attempt at policy reform, as is Massachusetts. Groups are organizing in Maine for a ballot initiative.

Change is on the horizon.

Read more: Standing at the Precipice of Monumental Change


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, nonprofit organization, has been the leading advocate in the Death with Dignity movement. Individual contributions helped us pass new Death with Dignity laws in Washington and Vermont, defend the Oregon law, and provide education and outreach programs for the vitality of the Death with Dignity movement.

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