Compassion & Choices and Patient Choices Vermont Intervene to Protect VT Aid-in-Dying Law

December 7, 2016

A federal judge has granted a motion by Compassion & Choices, Patient Choices Vermont and two terminally ill Vermonters that allows them to argue in court against a lawsuit brought by religious groups to undermine Vermont’s End-of-Life Choice Act (Act 39).  Act 39 gives mentally capable, terminally ill adult residents of Vermont the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication that they can decide to ingest to end their suffering and die peacefully in their sleep.

The Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and Tennessee-based Christian Medical and Dental Association filed the suit in July against the State of Vermont. The groups claim both Act 39 and Vermont’s Patient Rights law violate the plaintiffs’ religious rights by requiring doctors to discuss all end-of-life care options with their patients (see complaint posted here).

During the first hearing in the case on Nov. 8, the plaintiffs’ attorneys suggested his physician clients would be willing to “…tell a patient that they can Google assisted suicide on their cell phone and that’s a reasonably available source of information…” (See page 40 of hearing transcript posted here).

“The notion that doctors could fulfill their professional duty to ensure patients can make fully-informed decisions by Googling to learn about their end-of-life care options is the height of irresponsibilitly,” said Linda Waite-Simpson, Vermont state director for Compassion & Choices. “It would be tantamount to doctors abandoning their patients at the most vulnerable time of their lives, especially given the danger of them Googling — and relying upon — fake news posted online.”

In granting the motion to allow Compassion & Choices and Patient Choices Vermont to intervene in the case, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford wrote: “As people potentially eligible for consideration under Act 39, both individual [patient] intervenors have strong personal reasons for resisting the type of silence or boycott which Plaintiffs seek to preserve for themselves on an issue of patient choice … the intervenor organizations [Compassion & Choices and Patient Choices Vermont] appear to have considerable experience in the field. The court welcomes their advice and expertise…” (see pages 4-5 of intervenor order here).

“The Vermont law respects everyone’s personal beliefs because it allows any person or healthcare professional to refuse to directly participate in medical aid in dying,” said Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices. “But these doctors contend their personal beliefs should trump their patients’ rights when it comes to simply referring them to a healthcare professional to advise them about all their end-of-life care options. It should send shivers down the spine of every patient.”

“This case is about a patient’s right to know what their options are at the end of life,” said Betsy Walkerman, President of Patient Choices Vermont. “Physicians should not impose their personal religious values on their patients by preventing them from receiving information about all of their end-of-life care options.”

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