Vermont House Gives Preliminary Approval to Bill to Improve 2013 Medical Aid-in-Dying Law

April 13, 2022

SB 74, already approved by Senate, would make three critical improvements to Act 39

Patient Choices Vermont and Compassion & Choices praised the Vermont House of Representatives for their preliminary approval Thursday of Senate Bill 74 to update and improve the state’s 2013 Patient Choice at End of Life Law, Act 39. The Vermont Senate passed the bill on a voice vote on Jan. 25.

Act 39 gives terminally ill adults in Vermont, who are mentally capable of making their own decisions, the option to obtain a doctor’s prescription for aid-in-dying medication they can decide to self-administer to peacefully hasten their death, if they so choose. Participation in the law is completely voluntary for patients, physicians and pharmacists.

Vermont is among 10 states, as well as Washington, D.C., that have similar laws providing end-of-life choice for more than one out of five Americans (22%).

“On behalf of the many Vermonters who express their gratitude for Act 39, we thank the Vermont House for listening to the voices of terminally ill Vermonters,” says Betsy Walkerman, President of Patient Choices Vermont. “These improvements will make proper use of the law less onerous for dying people while keeping the safeguards strong.”

“Vermont lawmakers have reviewed the evidence and data from Vermont and the other authorized states and recognized that it’s time to eliminate unnecessary regulatory roadblocks that prevent some terminally ill people from accessing medical aid in dying,” said Kim Callinan, president and CEO of Compassion & Choices, the nation’s largest end-of-life care advocacy group. “As a result, more terminally ill Vermonters will be able to avoid needless suffering and die peacefully.”

The bill would improve the following three aspects of Act 39:

  1. Telemedicine: Enable terminally ill Vermonters to make their requests for medical aid in dying under Act 39 by video telemedicine.

  1. Timeline: Adjust the Act 39 timeline to eliminate the final 48-hour delay in obtaining a prescription.

  1. Immunity: Correct a technical deficiency in Act 39 by clarifying that all participants in the process including the pharmacist have legal immunity.

Dr. Diana Barnard says, “Tony Digiacomo, husband of Lynn Achee, a former patient of mine asked me to share her story in the hopes that other people would not have to suffer the delays and heartache that she did. The long Act 39 process caused her to miss the window for using medical aid in dying. Her husband Tony said she would be grateful to know that S.74 has been approved by both houses of the legislature.”

Compassion & Choices
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Patricia A. González-Portillo
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