The Vermont Department of Health has just released its report on medical aid in dying for the period of July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2023. This bi-annual report offers statistics indicating that access to Medical Aid in Dying in Vermont has expanded in recent years.
Note 1: In the past decade, about 3/4 of patients who have qualified have chosen to use their aid-in-dying medication. The remainder either chose not to use their medication or died sooner from their underlying disease.
Note 2: This data reflects just Vermont residents. Non-residents only recently gained access to Act 39 and are not included.
So why this jump?
We can only guess, but during this most recent two-year period, Patient Choices Vermont (PCV) spearheaded two successful legislative campaigns to expand access to Act 39:
S.74 (Act 97) was signed into law in April 2022. It eased some requirements, notably allowing patients to use telehealth to make the required requests during the Act 39 process. Along with the many messages of gratitude we receive, we have heard from patients and doctors that the telehealth option makes the process smoother and more comfortable for patients, especially many who have difficulty traveling.
H.190 (Act 10) ended the Act 39 residency requirement in May 2023, too late for this change to be reflected in this report. However, the flurry of news surrounding both of these campaigns greatly increased public awareness of the existence of Act 39. We believe that in-depth local and national stories of patients and families, along with many recent books, podcasts, and other media have contributed to the increase in numbers.
Even with more awareness, better access has only been possible because of the growing number of knowledgeable healthcare providers. PCV is widely recognized as the most authoritative source in Vermont on the topic of end-of-life choice. Our team provides training and reference information, as well as one-on-one assistance through our helpline.
The benefits of having medical aid in dying available extend far beyond the people who actually use it. Families and doctors tell us that when patients ask about Act 39, it sparks more open and honest conversations about the individual’s quality of life and preferences so that care can be more aligned with the person’s values. This orientation to individual choice improves all care, not just for those seeking aid in dying.
As we enter the new year, thank you to all who have made medical aid in dying possible and accessible - the legislators, physicians, medical staff, hospice providers, volunteers, patients, and caring friends and family members. It is supporters like you who deserve a huge amount of credit for spreading awareness and expanding availability of medical aid in dying in Vermont.
Happy New Year. May our work remain as irrelevant to you as possible!
To get involved or learn more, please visit the Patient Choices Vermont website. You can also read the official state report on medical aid in dying.