by Peg Sandeen, Executive Director
Three years ago today we watched Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin sign the Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life Act. With this signature, qualified terminally ill Vermont residents won the option to legally obtain prescription medications to hasten their death in a peaceful and dignified manner.
It was truly a historic moment: the country’s third Death with Dignity statute, Act 39 was the first to pass through a legislature. Our victory showed physician-assisted dying statutes modeled on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act can be enacted through the legislative route (last year, we saw a confirmation of this in California).
A Decade of Campaigning
The path to passage was arduous. For a decade, we were the national organization campaigning year after year for Death with Dignity legislation with our local partner Patient Choices Vermont, led by the late Dick Walters.* In a prime example of our brand of advocacy, we lent our strategic expertise and political acumen to local champions to help craft the law and provide strategic support for its passage; educate residents and interest groups about its benefits; and raise funds to underwrite the campaign.
We did what we do best, but it was our friends on the ground who did the heavy lifting. On this the 3rd anniversary of Act 39, we wish to thank and congratulate Patient Choices Vermont for all the work on passing the Death with Dignity law and ensuring it continues to provide peace of mind to those who are dying from a terminal illness.
Last year, the Vermont legislature removed certain sunset provisions from Act 39, ensuring that all the necessary safeguards protecting both physicians and patients remain intact and the law can function without problems.
Continuing the Work
The work is not done, however.
In addition to helping patients navigate the law and educate people of all walks of life about it, our friends at Patient Choices Vermont continue their work ensuring Vermonters have the option. In the 2016 legislative session alone, four bills were introduced seeking to curb access to Act 39. Led by Dick Walters’s daughter Betsy Walkerman, Patient Choices Vermont has been working hard to block these bills.
Thank you for all you do.
* Dick Walters, who founded Patient Choices Vermont, believed Death with Dignity was a basic human right. He called on everyone to take a stand and recognize that even a right this personal must be fought for and won. Please let our friends at Patient Choices Vermont know you support them and sign the thank-you card.