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Vermont

Current Status

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 June 30, 2017, 29 Vermont residents used the state’s assisted death law to hasten their death, according to the Vermont Department of Health (as first reported here).

In 2017, the Vermont Medical Society changed its position on the law, stating it provides for a legal option whose use is up to patients and that members are free to decide whether they wish to participate in the law.

2017 Legislative Session

In the 2017 legislative session, four bills were under consideration in the Vermont legislature seeking to restrict the use of Act 39, according to our friends at Patient Choices Vermont.

The bills sought, respectively, to impose a six-month minimum on the doctor-patient relationship in order for a doctor to prescribe under Act 39; to impose (among other restrictions) a requirement that an independent witness be present at the time of death; to 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; and to specify that no physician has a duty to inform patients about their options under Act 39. None of the bills advanced.

Legal Challenges

Note: Information in this section is courtesy of Patient Choices Vermont.

On April 7, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford dismissed the lawsuit brought forward in July 2016 by two Christian groups claiming Vermont’s law infringes on the physicians’ freedom of speech by requiring them to discuss with patients all of their end-of-life options, including aid in dying.

Judge Crawford concluded that existing Vermont laws “continue to govern physicians in all aspects of their care of the terminally ill. Under these provisions, physicians must inform patients about all choices and options relevant to their medical treatment.”

In a December 18, 2017 ruling, Judge Crawford clarified that the consent agreement between the Vermont Attorney General and the plaintiffs of the original suit, which contradicted Vermont law quoted above, does not represent the court’s views and that the doctors’ duties to inform patients about all of their end-of-life care options remains intact.

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History

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.

Our Local Partner

Patient Choices Vermont is a nonprofit organization, which “seeks to educate Vermonters about end-of-life options and to influence policy, regulations and practice that affect the terminally ill.”

“Patient Choices Vermont educates new legislators and sustains its legislative watch function in order to ensure that Act 39 is in place for the long term.” The organization also “works to ensure that all Vermonters have knowledge and practical access to the choices the Act provides,” collaborating with medical and care-giving institutions as well as its board members and advisors.

Resources

Tell Congress to Leave D.C.'s Death with Dignity Act Alone

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D.C. Residents Aren’t the Only Ones at Risk. Take Action Now!

Death with dignity opponents in Congress are trying to repeal the Washington D.C. Death with Dignity Act through the federal budget process. If they have their way, they’ll go on to repeal the rights of qualified terminally ill citizens in Vermont and elsewhere, and ban assisted dying nationwide. Help us win this fight. Send a letter to your U.S. Representative and Senators asking them to keep the repeal provision out of this year's spending bill.

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