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Three Years Ago in Vermont

May 20, 2016

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.

Please add your name and sign this card to them:

Thank You Card to Patient Choices Vermont

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.

Please join us and send Betsy and everyone at Patient Choices Vermont this message of heartfelt gratitude. Click here to add your name.

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.


Bill Alcock
May 23, 2016 at 4:58 am

Everyone should have the right to make a choice for medical assistance to end their lives in a painless and dignified manner if quality of life is lost, provided this choice has been documented in an advance health care directive whilst of sound mind

Robert Di Ferdinando
August 18, 2016 at 10:15 am

Life, lived in constant, relatively uncontrollable pain – should be considered for relief under the Death with Dignity discussion. It is very depressing to live a life that will not be shortened by uncontrollable pain. What is left to me? To wait years in numbing pain for what – is just not fair.

JW Johnson
November 3, 2016 at 7:57 pm

I’m only 49 years old and I live in such severe pain daily, that I think it should be my right to choose whether or not I wish to continue living or not. I’m taking 18 different prescription medications three times a day just to live in world where people have no idea how bad my pain really is. My own kids don’t even get the amount of pain I’m truly in. Of course like everyone else, in a perfect world I wouldn’t even be discussing this issue, but the fact is that this world isn’t perfect. It’s very hard to express how you really feel about certain subjects such as this, but at the end of the day every person should be able to choose for themselves whether to live and suffer, or die and be free of not only their pain, but also anyone and everyone that has been caring for them for so long that they can at some point understand and even appreciate the choice. Everyone has their own reasons for feeling this way, and they should have that right to act on it as long as their mind is still thinking straight enough to recognize what they’re choosing to do. This could go on and on, so for now I’ll end here.
GOd Bless

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Afterword: Physician-Assisted Dying Concepts

What Can You Do Today to Bring Aid in Dying to Your State?

As the new year starts, legislatures around the country are gearing back up for new sessions. As in recent years, a number of legislators are expected to introduce bills to legalize aid in dying, many of them written with the help of the Death with Dignity National Center or based on the landmark Oregon law. Now is a great time to get involved in the effort. Can you organize volunteers to talk with legislators on this issue? Can you share your thoughts on social media? Check out our Take Action page to learn what is going on in your state and how you can help.