Act 39, Vermont Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life Act has been in effect since May 2013. The sunset provision on certain patient safeguards was removed by S.108 (Act 27) in May 2015.
As of April 2017, 49 Vermont residents received prescriptions under the state’s assisted death law, according to media reports.
2017 Legislative Session
In the 2017 legislative session, four bills are under consideration in the Vermont legislature seeking to restrict the use of Act 39, according to our friends at Patient Choices Vermont:
- H.254 An act relating to physician-patient relationships and Vermont residency for patient choice at end of life, sponsored by Representative Tate, seeks to impose a six-month minimum on the doctor-patient relationship in order for a doctor to prescribe under Act 39. Current law leaves the judgment in the hands of the physician to determine whether he or she has sufficient information to make the determinations required by the law. The bill is in Committee on Human Services with no hearings scheduled.
- H.255 An act relating to requiring a witness and independent communication in exercising patient choice at end of life, sponsored by Representative Tate, would impose (among other restrictions) a requirement that an independent witness be present at the time of death. The bill is in Committee on Human Services with no hearings scheduled.
- H.298 An act relating to requiring an Adult Protective Services consultation prior to issuing certain prescriptions, sponsored by 10 Representatives, would require a physician to consult with the Adult Protective Services Program prior to writing a prescription under Act 39 and to document certain steps in connection with this consultation. The bill is in Committee on Human Services.
- H.320 An act relating to physicians’ duties under the patient’s bill of rights for palliative care and pain management, introduced by Representative Donahue, would specify that no physician has a duty to inform patients about their options under Act 39. The bill is in Committee on Human Services.
Following our successful 10-year campaign to promote a Vermont aid-in-dying bill, in collaboration with the local partner Patient Choices Vermont, the Vermont state legislature passed the Act in 2013. Governor Peter Shumlin signed the Act on May 20, 2013. The law went into effect immediately. Vermont thus became the third state to enact a Death with Dignity law, the first to be passed through legislation.
The Vermont law is very similar to the Oregon and Washington Death with Dignity Acts in offering end-of-life options with strong safeguards against abuse.