Vermont

Vermont “Report Concerning Patient Choice at the End of Life”
(January 15, 2020)
Official statistics regarding Vermont’s law permitting assisted suicide

Vermont Report about state law permitting assisted suicide released
(December 18, 2017)
Official statistics about “Patient Choice at the End of Life” law which permits doctor-prescribed suicide.

A federal district court judge dismissed a lawsuit that challenged a requirement that all physicians inform terminally ill patients of the state’s “death with dignity” law. (April 6, 2017)
In his ruling which dismissed the lawsuit for lack of ripeness, Judge Geoffrey Crawford also stated that informed consent provisions of Vermont law apply.
Text of Court Decision

Vermont doctors push back against assisted-suicide requirement”
(Washington Times — July 21, 2016)
A lawsuit says that the 2013 assisted-suicide law, Act 39, has been interpreted in a way that, if medical professionals are not willing to help patients end their lives, then they must refer them to physicians who will.
Text of Complaint

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As with all doctor-prescribed suicide proposals, the VT law was initiated by the out of state  Compassion & Choices (formerly called the Hemlock Society).
“Letter to Doctors, Actually Saying What We Knew all the Time: Assisted Suicide in Vermont Was and Is the Project of Forces from Outside the State”
(True dignity Vermont — September 28, 2013)
[Note: Letter from assisted-suicide advocacy group is linked in first paragraph]

On Monday, May 20, 2013, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed Vermont’s doctor-prescribed suicide bill, the “Patient Choice at End of Life” bill.  The law took effect immediately.
According to the Vermont Health Commissioner, it is expected that health insurance will cover the process.
Text of law
Report forms
for doctor-prescribed suicide in Vermont

As of mid-June, Vermont hospitals were beginning to sort out what options health facilities have when it comes to implementing the law.

The law states: “A health care facility may prohibit a physician from writing a prescription for a dose of medication intended to be lethal for a patient who is a resident of its facility and intends to use the medication on the facility’s premises, provided that the facility has notified the physician in writing of its policy with regard to the prescriptions.” [emphasis added]

This “facilities’ exemption” is very narrow and leaves open many questions.  For example:

  • Will a hospital pharmacy be required to fill a prescription for the lethal overdose?
  • Must a hospital or care facility permit a doctor to write a prescription for a patient or resident if the drugs are going to be taken after the patient is discharged?
  • Must a health care or assisted living facility permit a patient or resident to bring the lethal prescription from home to self-administer on the premises at a later date?

……………………….
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Background

Vermont, with a population of 623,050 people has a suicide rate that is above the national average. Although every year more people die nationally from suicide than from homicide, the difference between the number of suicides and homicides in Vermont is far greater than throughout the nation. In Vermont, suicide deaths outnumber homicide death by more than 6-1. [CDC, National Vital Statistics Reports, Apr. 24, 2008]

According to the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services, “about 1 in 20 elders are victims of violence and abuse” and “elders and people with disabilities are, as a group, at high risk for violence, abuse and exploitation.”

Although Governor “Shumlin hails Vermont’s No. 1 health ranking”, that ranking is primarily due to good prenatal care and active lifestyles.  However Vermont ranks 28th best in its cancer death rate, meaning a slight majority of other states do better on that measure.

Current law regarding assisted suicide

On May 20, 2013, a doctor-prescribed suicide bill was signed into law. The Oregon-style provisions contained in the law will be in effect for three years after which they will sunset, leaving a stripped down version that removes the illusory safeguards.  The remaining law will protect participating physicians and family members from criminal liability.
Previously, assisted suicide was a common law crime in Vermont.

Steps leading up to passage of current law

Prior to final passage there were a number of versions of the VT bill.
Text of original  S. 77, an Oregon-style bill, prior to February 14 amended version.
An entirely different version of S. 77 than the version originally proposed passed the VT Senate on February 14. 
Text of bill  S.77 as amended and passed by the VT Senate on February 14, 2013.
The one page bill replaced the original 22 page measure that was a mirror image of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.  The bill, as passed in the Senate, was sent to the VT House where doctor-prescribed suicide advocates amended it to reflect the original Oregon-style law.  On May 1, 2013, the House amended the bill to reflect the original Oregon-style bill.
Text of bill S. 77 as amended by the VT House. The bill then went back to the Senate where it was again amended before going back to the House for final passage.

Previous attempt to permit doctor-prescribed suicide fails

On February 16, 2011, H. 274, titled “An Act Relating to Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life,” was introduced in the House.  (Analysis of H. 274) On March 28, 2011, an identical bill, S.103, was introduced in the Senate.

On May 9, 2011, Vermont’s 2011 legislative session ended. Although assisted-suicide activists had predicted that an Oregon-style law would pass easily and Governor Peter Shumlin had raised expectations of proponents by campaigning on a promise of legalization, doctor-prescribed suicide did not become law in Vermont in 2011. But, because Vermont has a 2-year session, the bill remained under consideration in 2012.

After the measure failed to make it out of committee by the 2012 legislative deadline, proponents amended it to another unrelated measure (dealing with tanning beds for minors).

On April 12, 2012 the measure was resoundingly defeated by a Senate vote of 11-18.

After many months of debate, a doctor-prescribed suicide bill (S. 77) passed.

Prior to passage of the VT doctor-prescribed suicide bill on May 13, 2013, there had been many attempts to transform assisted suicide into a medical treatment in the state.

H. 274S.103 (2011- 2012); (Analysis of H. 274)
S. 144, H. 455 (2009); Analysis of S. 144  (View as PDF)
H. 44, S. 63 (2007)
H. 168 (2005-2006)
H. 318 (2003-2004)
H. 493 (1999)
H. 109 (1997)
H. 335 (1995)

Articles

“More Funding Needed For Suicide Prevention, Advocates Say”
(VPR — February 11, 2015)
“We have stabilized off a bit…But we still continue to be extremely concerned about numbers that are far above the national average in all age ranges,” JoEllen Tarallo-Falk, Vermont Suicide Prevention Center director.

“Why Vermont pulled the plug on single-payer healthcare”
(Modern Healthcare — December 23, 2014)
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin stunned the healthcare policy world last week when he announced the state was scrapping plans to create a single-payer system.  The state said the economics didn’t work, but not everyone is convinced.

“Repeal physician-assisted suicide, now”
(Burlington Free Press — July 30, 2014)
Years ago we did away with the death penalty…mistakes could be made and an innocent person could be wrongly put to death….Now we have Act 39 (physician-assisted suicide), another law whose only purpose is to result in the death of one of our citizens.

“A year later, no one has used law to hasten death”
(Source: Burlington Free Press — May 19, 2014)
A year after Vermont enacted a law allowing terminally ill patients to hasten their own deaths, no one has done so.  That has critics questioning whether Vermont needed the law at all, or whether the driving force was really outside groups looking to spread their cause.

“Opponents Call for Repeal of Assisted Suicide”
(Vt Digger — February 27, 2014)
Edward Mahoney, president of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Health Care, said at a news conference Thursday that the law is poorly crafted and its supporters have not fully considered the ramifications of the law.

“Group launches effort to repeal physician-assisted death law”
(VT Digger — August 21, 2013)
The debate on Vermont’s Death with Dignity law is not over yet.  The Vermont Alliance for Ethical Health Care has started an advertising campaign to spread awareness on Vermont’s End of Life Choices law ahead of a lobbying effort calling for its repeal.
You Tube video of ad.

“Legislative Malpractice”
(Source: Originally published in Burlington Free Press — July 5, 2013)
Vermont legislators should be mortified that they have enacted a law to allow and promote “aid-in-dying” with virtually no protections for vulnerable patients. Among other things, the new law allows someone other than the patient to interpret a patient’s request for the lethal prescription.  And the law requires that physicians inform all terminally ill patients about all available treatment options (including a drug to hasten death) even if the patient does not ask about it.

“Clarifying reporting on the Patient Choice at End of Life law”
(Bennington Banner — June 29, 2013)
Southwestern Vermont Health Care has chosen to enact this Health Care Facility Exception based on input from the Medical Executive Committee, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Board of Governors, and the SVHC Board of Directors. The exception applies to all SVHC institutional entities.

“SVMC joins others in aid-in-dying exemption”
(Bennington Banner — June 26, 2013)
The bill was passed with a provision that allows medical factilities to opt out of it. Robinson said the Southwestern Vermont Health Care Board of Trustees and the health system’s Medical Executive Committee voted in May to invoke the exemption rule.

“Grace Cottage opts out of assisted-suicide law — for now”
(Brattleboro Reformer — June 22, 2013)
Vermont’s smallest hospital has become the latest medical facility to opt out of the state’s new aid-in-dying law. — at least temporarily.

“Leffler: What Vermont’s new end of life choice law means for Fletcher Allen”
(Vermont Digger — June 16, 2013)
This new law raises complex emotional and ethical issues for patients and providers.  While the intent of the law is clear, the rules and regulations for how it will be carried out still must be determined.

“Brattleboro Memorial Hospital passes on aid-in-dying law”
(Brattleboro Reformer — June 13, 2013)
The Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Board of Directors has voted to enact the facility exemption rule that was included in the aid-in-dying law the Legislature passed this year.  The board’s vote means that doctors who work at the hospital will not be permitted to prescribe medication to hasten death for terminally ill patients who want to take that medicine on hospital grounds.

“‘Death with Dignity’ Claims Another Victim”
(Wall Street Journal — May 24, 2013)
Nearly 30 years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator” character made famous the phrase, “I’ll be back,” the implacable cyborg assassin’s response to a setback. Today, similarly relentless terminators are among us, also with a deadly mission: to move America toward acceptance of physician-assisted suicide.

“‘Death with Dignity’ signed into law in Vermont”
(Vt Digger — May 20, 2013)
Attorney General Bill Sorrell predicted that court action could compel other states to follow in Vermont’s footsteps….The quick turnaround was necessary for procedural reasons….The only way to expedite the process was to have the governor to request the bill, but when he makes that sort of request, he has to sign the bill within five legislative days.

“Jackowski: Assisted suicide is not the answer”
(Vt Digger — May 20, 2013)
The “assisted suicide bill” does exactly what it is designed not to do….For those pressured to die, there will be no choice.  Behind closed doors in private, who will be there to protect them?  Elder abuse is a major hidden problem.  Talk to anyone in a nursing home — give them anonymity, that they will tell all.

Vermont passes doctor-prescribed suicide law
On May 13, 2013, in a nighttime session, assisted-suicide supporters mustered enough votes to defeat several amendments that would have stalled the bill for a year.

“Emotional end-of-life bill faces uncertain end as Senate and House try to iron out differences” (Vt Digger — May 3, 2013)
The Vermont House passed a much-debated end-of-life bill Wednesday, but the legislation is far from reaching the end of the road.
Now, the bill has become a looking glass into the procedural nuances that arise when the two legislative bodies — House and Senate — settle upon two very different versions of the same bill.  And how it ends up is very much up in the air.

“House Passes End of Life Bill; Senate Deal Eyed”
(Vermont Public Radio — May 1, 2013)
Usually when the two chambers disagree, a conference committee is appointed to iron out the differences. But in this case, the goal of the bill’s supporters is to keep it out of a conference committee between the House and Senate. That’s because two of the three people who appoint the Senate conferees are opposed to the bill, and it could die there as the legislative clock runs out.

“Attempts to scuttle death with dignity bill fail; Vt. House passes legislation on second reading”
(Vermont Digger — May 1, 2013)
A little before midnight, the House voted 80-57 to approve S. 77. It is up for final vote Wednesday….The legislation which will be on third reading in the House Wednesday, faces a potential fight in conference committee with the Senate panel

Poll finds that 67% of Vermonters DO NOT support Oregon-style doctor-assisted suicide legislation.  (4/13)
Vermonters were asked whether they support leaving Vermont law as it is; having an Oregon-style doctor-prescribed suicide law; or adopting a compromise bill approved by the Senate.  Poll questions and results.

Testimony of John B. Kelly of Second Thoughts before the Vermont House Human Services Committee. (April 11, 2013)

“VT Senate passes end-of-life bill”
(North County Public Radio — February 15, 2013)
After three days of intense debate, the Vermont Senate passed an end-of-life bill that will now make its way to the House. Senator Ann Cummings, from Montpelier, proposed an amendment that stripped away a lot of those specifics.  The bill will now head to the House, where Senators Cummings and Rodgers predict it will be substantially changed.

An entirely different version of S. 77 than the version originally proposed passed the VT Senate on February 14. 
The one page bill replaced a 22 page measure that was a mirror image of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.  The bill, as passed in the Senate, is now in the VT House where doctor-prescribed suicide advocates will attempt to amend it to reflect the Oregon law.
Text of bill  S.77 as amended and passed by the VT Senate on February 14, 2013.
Text of original  S. 77, an Oregon-style bill, prior to February 14 amended version.

Lt. Gov. Breaks Tie As Senate Changes End of Life Bill
(Vermont Public Radio — 2/13/13)
After a full day of debate, the Vermont Senate completely overhauled legislation that allows terminally ill people to end their lives.  It was a change that many supporters of the original bill argued would weaken it, so they voted against it.
Senate leaders hope the body will take final action on this bill by the end of the week.
Amended bill — February 13, 2013

The Vermont Senate has voted 17 – 13 to reject the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation to strike down the doctor-prescribed suicide bill.
The bill will move forward for a final debate on Thursday. (2/12/13)

“Senate Judiciary sends death with dignity to Senate floor without its blessing”
In an unusual move, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-1 pm Friday to send the controversial “death with dignity” bill to the Senate floor early next week, despite the panel’s disapproval of the legislation.  The bill will be heard on the Senate floor on Tuesday morning.  (2/8/13)”

Death-Rithmetic: The Vote Count on Physician-Assisted Suicide”  (2/7/13)
Latest vote count for VT assisted suicide proposal and names of undecided senators.

“Hearings Begin On Assisted Death Bill”
(Vermont Public Radio — January 29, 2013)
The Vermont Senate Health and Welfare Committee has started its week-long review of one of the most controversial and emotional issues of the session.
Its likely that the Senate Health and Welfare committee will vote in favor of the bill on Friday. The legislation will then go to the Judiciary committee where it faces an uncertain future but Senate leaders have vowed to bring the issue to the floor even if the Judiciary committee takes a negative vote on the bill.

“Vermont lawmakers face debates on taxes, death and pot”
(Brattleboro Reformer — January 2, 2013)
The other recurring issue Shumlin said he hopes will pass this year is a law that would allow doctors under certain conditions to help terminally ill patients end their lives.

“Shumlin hails Vermont’s No. 1 health ranking”
(Source: Bloomberg Businessweek — December 12, 2012)
Good prenatal care and active lifestyles are among the factors allowing Vermont to rank as the No. 1 healthiest state….[But] Vermont ranks 28th best in its cancer death rate, meaning a slight majority of other states do better on that measure.

“Shumlin confident death with dignity, childcare worker unionization, marijuana decriminalization, bills will pass this year. ”
(Vermont Digger — November 28, 2012)
Shumlin said he supports the death with dignity bill because he doesn’t understand why the state should interfere in a private decision made by an individual who has a terminal illness and wants to avoid suffering through the last 10  to 14 days of life.

“Death with dignity bill falls on Senate floor”
(Vermont Digger — April 12, 2012)
The long-proposed “death with dignity” bill will have to wait another year to see if Vermont legislators support or oppose it.

“Death With Dignity Bill Takes Surprising Turn In Senate”
(Vermont Public Radio — April 10, 2012)
The question is whether or not the amendment will be considered germane to the tanning bill.  Miller says since tanning beds are responsible for the development of certain types of cancer,the connection is definitely there. If backers are not successful in this initial effort, they say they’ll look for other bills to attach their amendments to.

“Death with dignity tacked onto tanning bill”
(Vermont Digger — April 10, 2012)
On Tuesday the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare tacked it on as a last-minute amendment to a bill prohibiting minors from using tanning beds. If Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Senate Secretary John Bloomer deem the amendment not germane, a vote by three-quarters of the senators could override that decision and allow a vote.

“”Vt. lawmakers: Right-to-die bill won’t pass”
(Real Clear Politics — March 16, 2012)
Supporters of the bill, including Democratic Gov. Peter Schumlin, had pushed the committee to take the unusual step of sending the bill for the full Senate with a recommendation that it be defeated, in hopes they could get a majority of the 30 member body to buck the committee and support its passage.

“Senate Democrats Wrangle Over Death Wish Dignity Bill”
(VPR News — January 23, 2012)
A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to get medication to end their own lives faces an uncertain prospect in the Vermont Senate. As VPRs John Dillon reports, two key Democrats are opposed to the measure, and they say lawmakers have more important priorities.

“Family Says Mallary Followed Convictions On Death With Dignity”
(Vermont Public Radio — January 4, 2012)
The family of former House Speaker Richard Mallary says he followed his convictions on death with dignity when he took his own life last fall….Ed Paquin, executive director of Disability Rights Vermont, thinks the bill is a threat to disabled people who could find themselves under pressure to end their lives.  “I don’t think it’s good public policy that doctors be allowed to prescribe lethal medication, which is then administered in an unsupervised say.”

“Digger Tidbits: Survey results mixed on ‘end-of-life’ bill”
(Vermont Digger — January 3, 2012)
Disability groups oppose “end-of-life” legislation that would enable patients with terminal illnesses to use prescription drugs to commit suicide….According to Sarah Lauderville, executive director of the Vermont Center for Independent Living, “With too many uncertainties and risk around physician-assisted suicide, VCIL stays committed to continue the fight against this becoming a public policy.”

“Queue is back for abused, vulnerable adults in Vermont”
(Vermont Digger — August 7, 2011)
Most incidents happen at home, cloaked in the kind of secrecy that mirrors domestic abuse. The perpetrators are often a member of an elderly person’s most intimate circle — a son or daughter, a parent, a grandchild,caregiver or neighbor….Incidents of illegal abuse, neglect or financial exploitation in the state are growing at an alarming rate.

VT official seeks to follow Oregon’s lead in doctor-prescribed suicide and health care rationing
“Political pragmatism is key to Vt.’s health care reform”
(Source: Addison County Independent — July 18, 2011)
Steven Kimbell, commissioner of the VT Dept. of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration, recently spoke with the Addison County Independent about upcoming changes to the state’s health care system.  Discussed, among the ways to contain costs of the new program, were:
“Passing a law that allows physicians to help end a patient’s life under very controlled circumstances, known as ‘death with dignity,’ is one such measure that could help….”
and
“Another is approving some type of rationing measures, as Oregon has done, that help control health care costs.”

Leading Palliative Care Expert  Discusses Assisted Suicide
April 5, 2011
Dr. Diane Meier who previously favored legalization of assisted suicide now opposes it.  Speaking at a public forum in Vermont, she said, “What’s also interesting is that the movement to legalize assisted suicide is overwhelmingly driven by the ‘worried well’…Legalization of physician assisted suicide in a society like ours, which is entirely driven by overwhelmed, overextended doctors chasing the dollar, is pretty scary.”

“Death with dignity forum emotional”
( Bennington Banner – – March 4, 2011 )
The Mark Skinner Library was the site of an emotionally charged but largely civil conversation on Vermont’s Death with Dignity bill, or H. 274, introduced in the House on Feb. 17. The event was organized by Patient Choices Vermont which supports the measure. More than 100 individuals attended, most wearing round yellow stickers reading, “I oppose physician-assisted suicide.”

“With a New Governor in Power, Will Vermonters Finally Win Their ‘Right to Die’?”
( Seven Days – – January 12, 2011 )
Supporters of an Oregon-style assisted suicide law have reason to believe they could win passage for a similar bill in VT. “Unlike in past years, when it failed to take hold in Vermont, ‘death with dignity’ now has an important ally: the governor. Newly sworn-in Gov. Peter Shumlin pledged support for right-to-die legislation during the 2010 campaign, and, as a state senator the year before, he cosponsored S. 144,’An Act Relating to Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life.'”

“Legislature’s now open for business”
( Bennington Banner – – January 6, 2011 )
Vermont’s legislative biennium beginning this week presents myriad opportunities for Democratic policy gains as Gov-elect Peter Shumlin takes office and both chambers maintain strong Democratic majorities. Supporters of a physician-assisted suicide bill believe such a law can pass under Shumlin’s leadership. He has said he supports such a law but not all Democratic lawmakers are on board with Shumlin’s wishes.

Note: Assisted-suicide advocates in Vermont claim that there are no problems with Oregon’s assisted-suicide law (on which the Vermont proposal is based) and they claim that the Oregon law’s safeguards are protective, meticulously followed, and carefully monitored. However those claims are false. For document information about this, see “Ten Years of Assisted Suicide in Oregon.”