No one in Vermont has yet used law legalizing doctor-prescribed suicide to end their own life


Editor’s note. The following comes from the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare.

Edward Mahoney, President of Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare

Edward Mahoney, President of Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare

On May 20, 2014, twelve full months after enactment of Act 39, no one in Vermont has used the law to end their own life, despite claims from proponents that such a law was necessary. While two prescriptions were written, both patients died naturally without ingesting the lethal dose.

The Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare (VAEH) was organized in 1998 with a dual purpose: 1) to oppose passage of any law that would legalize assisted suicide, and 2) promote excellent palliative care for Vermonters. In concert with Vermont’s leading disability rights organizations and others, we were successful in those endeavors until late in the 2013 legislative session. While access to excellent palliative care has increased, physician assisted suicide also is now legal in Vermont.

VermontAlliancelogoAfter months of contentious debate and 19 roll call votes, the Vermont House and Senate passed what is now Act 39, by just a handful of votes. It is generally understood that well-funded, out-of-state forces were the driving factor behind the close margin of victory. In 2013, VAEH polling found that over 60% of Vermonters did not believe that physician-assisted suicide should be a legislative priority, and the poll also found that support for an Oregon-style law fell to only one-third of the voters once details of the law were made clear. Act 39 stripped away many protections found in the Oregon-style law that proponents argued were essential to good legislation and in 2016 the remaining protections disappear.

“Promoters of assisted suicide assured legislators that such a law would be about patient choice, yet the out-of-state organization, Compassion and Choices (formerly known as the Hemlock Society) has hired a state director,” stated Edward Mahoney, President of VAEH

“If ACT 39 is really desired by Vermonters, and all about patient choice, why would the out-of-state organization Compassion and Choices need to encourage Vermonters to use the law? Why would they need to hire Rep. Linda Waite-Simpson to help promote the law at conferences, health fairs and other venues around the state?” added Mahoney.

In addition to hiring a sitting legislator, Compassion and Choices granted money to the Vermont Ethics Network (VEN) (a non-partisan educational organization) to promote use of the law in Vermont. Diana Barnard, MD, who testified in favor of assisted suicide and VEN’s Executive Director, Cindy Bruzzeze are traveling the state speaking to a variety of health care providers and ethics committees.

“I attended the talk given by Cindy Bruzzese at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital on March 24th,” stated Lynne Caulfield, RN, “and though it was billed as an informational evening, two things became quickly obvious. First, the real goal of the evening was to help people become comfortable with Act 39 and to encourage participation. Second, the uncomfortable responses to questions from the audience left little doubt that even proponents of this hastily crafted law realize it is full of dangerous implications for the user, and offers no protection for most healthcare providers.”

VAEH has also shared information with neighboring states considering a similar law. Physician-assisted suicide legislation failed this year in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.