Today we mark the seventh anniversary of Vermont’s End-of-Life Choice Law (Act 39).
The signing ceremony was the culmination of many years of work.
Since 2013 countless people have benefited from having greater choice and control near the end of life. Vermont’s example has been followed in California, Colorado, Hawaii, D.C., New Jersey and Maine so that now 23% of Americans have access to medical aid in dying.
Here in Vermont, we successfully fought off early legislative attempts to weaken Act 39 and a major lawsuit challenging the law. Patient Choices Vermont (PCV) has been instrumental in educating doctors, nurses, hospice organizations and the public. Whereas in the early years, many of the calls to our hotline were from people desperate to find a prescribing doctor, today there are many doctors who know the process, assist their patients, and coach their colleagues who may be working under Act 39 for the first time.
Recently we've been so pleased to be contacted by a number of patients, physicians and hospice workers along the Connecticut River Valley, from Brattleboro to White River Junction and Norwich who are successfully navigating the process. Just a few years ago patients in these areas were mostly calling to report that they couldn't find doctors to assist them through the Act 39 process. Today some of the calls are from doctors who are prescribing, from doctors who are in the Dartmouth Hitchcock network but practice in Vermont serving Act 39 patients, and from hospice workers who are facilitating the process. We are also pleased that the compounding pharmacy in Rutland, a primary supplier of Act 39 medications, is personally delivering state-wide so that patients meet the pharmacist and receive instructions.
Despite this progress, a great many Vermonters do not yet know that Act 39 exists. It is still unusual for doctors who are caring for the terminally ill to inform their patients about medical aid in dying, unless the patient asks. Only then, do most doctors begin to learn the details of the Act 39 process. This is why it's vital for Patient Choices Vermont to continue educating individuals, communities, and their medical professionals.
We want to thank all of you who have shared PCV information with your neighbors and helped us organize educational sessions.
In this time and with so many other pressing community needs, we are postponing our usual spring fundraising activities until the fall. Nevertheless, if you feel inspired, please support Patient Choices Vermont with your contribution.
As always, we are here if you or your friends need our advice or assistance.
With best regards,
Betsy J. Walkerman, President