If you were among the many Vermonters who lobbied their legislators in the name of a patient’s right to choose, sometimes referred to as “death with dignity,” you probably think that the campaign is over and the battle won.
With the passage of Act 39, “An act relating to patient choice and control at the end of life,” that right of choice became law; but because no mechanism was in place through which to make exercise of that right available to all patients in need, for many of the terminally ill, it is still largely a symbolic victory.
The State of Vermont provides some online guidance regarding the implications of the new law, including all of the documents necessary to satisfy its requirements; but for finding a physician who is willing to assist the terminally ill in exercising their choice under the law, patients are on their own.
There is a lot of work left to be done to make this choice truly a functional reality for all Vermonters.
Patient Choices Vermont is working with Compassion & Choices and reaching out to those of us who
joined in the effort to change the law. Our help is needed once again to individually speak with our primary care providers in order to identify physicians who are willing to help patients who are seeking relief under the law.
The most urgent need is to locate physicians who are willing to provide assistance to those who are not their own patients. As physicians cannot be compelled to provide an end of life prescription to one of their patients, there is a genuine need to find relief for them elsewhere.
According to Linda Waite Simpson, State Director of Compassion and Choices,
The law is working well. Many terminally ill Vermonters gain security and peace of mind through knowing they have more end-of-life choice and control. Some will pursue a prescription for the medication authorized by this law and a small number will fully utilize it.
In the end, very few terminal patients choose to take the life-ending dose even when they have it in hand; but the knowledge that they may exercise that choice, should the suffering become truly unbearable, provides a reassuring sense of control and peace of truly palliative value.
Simpson and her colleagues are meeting with supporters throughout the state and asking for their help to spread the word about what the law means to patients, what help is available, and what help is still needed so that every Vermonter can be secure in their right to choice at the end of life.