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Frequently Asked Questions for Vermont Residents
For Out-of-State Residents
Q: What is Vermont’s Act 39?
A: Act 39 allows a capable, terminally ill, adult patient who is a Vermont resident to request and obtain a prescription for medication to be self-administered for the purpose of hastening the patient’s death. Participation by patients and doctors is entirely voluntary.
Q: Do you have to be a Vermont resident? What qualifies as residency?
A: Yes, you must a Vermont resident. The prescribing doctor is the person who must confirm that you are a Vermont resident. Factors to be considered may include whether you own or lease a residence in Vermont, whether you have a Vermont driver's license, whether you filed a tax return in Vermont and whether you are registered to vote in Vermont.
Q: Does Act 39 allow physician assisted suicide or euthanasia?
A: No. Under Act 39, the patient must be able to self-administer the medication. Medical aid in dying is not suicide. Suicide refers to the death of patients who otherwise have a choice to keep living, which Act 39 patients do not.
Q: Are doctors required to participate? What if my doctor won’t help me?
A: There are many doctors in Vermont who are assisting patients with medical aid in dying. However, doctors are not required to participate. Health care facilities may not prohibit their doctors from participating except in the case of federally funded institutions which are prohibited by federal regulation from participating. We recommend reading “How to Talk to Your Doctor.” Doctors are required under Vermont’s Act 39 and Vermont’s Patient Bill of Rights to discuss all the patient’s options so that the patient can make informed decisions. If your doctor does not want to discuss Act 39, ask for a referral to another doctor. You may have to be persistent. Patient Choices Vermont is working with various institutions to encourage them to set up internal referral systems. Many Vermont patients are served by Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. DHMC doctors who are licensed in Vermont CAN assist Vermont patients with medical aid in dying under Act 39.
Vermont Residency is Required: If you are not a resident of Vermont, then Vermont doctors are not allowed to assist you with medical aid in dying. If you are considering moving to Vermont, please understand that residency must be bona fide as evidenced by factors such as whether you own or lease a residence in Vermont, whether you have a Vermont driver's license, whether you filed a tax return in Vermont and whether you are registered to vote in Vermont. If you have already received a diagnosis of a terminal illness with six months or less to live, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to move to Vermont establish residence, find a doctor and have sufficient time to go through the Act 39 process.
Patient Choices Vermont Does Not Maintain a List of Doctors: If you are moving to Vermont, please understand that PCV does not maintain a list of doctors. Your best approach is to ask your existing doctor to make a referral to a Vermont doctor.
Alternatives to Medical Aid in Dying: If you have a terminal illness and live in a state that does not allow medical aid in dying, we strongly suggest that you talk to your medical and hospice providers about how you would like to be cared for and what options you may have. Specifically asked them about palliative care, palliative sedation and voluntary cessation of eating and drinking.
Our Sympathies: We wish we could provide an open ear and support to out-of-state patients, but as a small organization we do not have the resources to answer patient calls and emails from out-of-state. We simply do not have more information than is provided here.
Q: How long does the Act 39 process take?
A: Once you have confirmed that your doctor will assist you through the Act 39 process, we still recommend that you allow two months because multiple appointments and a second opinion are required. We recommend confirming with your doctor well ahead of time that he or she will assist you, even if you are healthy. This will simplify the process down the road.
Q: What are the possible drugs that are prescribed? How much do the drugs cost? Is the cost covered by insurance?
A: Your doctor will prescribe the medication that is appropriate for your condition. The patient must be able to swallow and absorb the medication. Instructions from your doctor should be carefully followed. Recent costs are $750. Insurance plans covering drugs for Medicare patients typically do not cover the cost. Other types of insurance do. Check your coverage.
Q: Can a patient change his or her mind? Does a doctor or nurse have to be present?
A: The patient is fully in charge of the decision-making and may change his or her mind at any time. There is no requirement for a medical professional to be present, but many families elect to have a hospice nurse with them when the patient takes the medication.
Q: What are the alternatives to medical aid in dying in case I don’t qualify?
A: This question can arise when a patient is severely debilitated but doesn’t have a terminal diagnosis, and therefore doesn’t qualify under Act 39. Patients always have the option to stop eating and drinking (VSED), which usually results in death in 2-3 weeks. Some patients receive palliative sedation, which may ease the way, especially if they are in pain. Patients may also request the withdrawal of treatments. These approaches are described more fully in the Glossary of Terms.
Q: Can I use medical aid in dying if I am in hospice? What if I’m in a hospice facility or assisted living or a nursing home?
A: Many patients who use Act 39 are in hospice care, typically at home. Hospice support for the dying and for families is very helpful whether or not the patient is planning to use Act 39. Under Act 39, hospitals and nursing homes are permitted to adopt policies prohibiting patients from taking terminal medication in their facilities. Other residential facilities are not permitted to prevent residents from using medical aid in dying. In practice, most people using medical aid in dying want to die in their home or in the home of a family member.
Q: What is palliative care?
A: Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with serious illness. The focus is on providing relief from the symptoms and stress that accompany illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for the patient and their family. Palliative care is provided by a multidisciplinary team including physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains and others who provide an extra layer of support. Palliative care can be provided at any age and along with curative treatment.
Q: What is palliative sedation?
A: Please see the definition in the Glossary of Terms.
Q: Can the decision to use Act 39 be in my advance directives so that I can use medical aid in dying even if I’m not able to make the decision at the time?
A: No. In order to qualify under Act 39, the patient must be able to make his or her own decisions.
Q: How many people have used Act 39?
A: The Vermont Department of Health reported that as of June 30, 2021 116 people qualified to receive terminal medication and about two-thirds of them are known to have used it. Others died without using medical aid in dying.
Q: What Changed with the 2022 Amendments in Senate Bill 74?
A: This bill made three important improvements to Act 39. See the summary here.
Find out more from Vermonters who share their stories on using medical aid in dying in Patient Choices Vermont's Living While Leaving video series...
PCV's Helpline for Vermont Residents: 802-448-0542, or firstname.lastname@example.org.