When you are sick, the last thing you want to worry about is whether you will receive complete and accurate information about your illness and your options. On a recent Vermont Edition program on medical aid in dying, a caller related her mother’s story:
“My mom was in hospice for 18 months and it was long and arduous… after she died, I wanted to ask her doctor why that option (medical aid in dying) was not offered to her.”
We are very pleased to welcome Audrey Winograd to our team.
Audrey is a lawyer and hospice-trained medical social worker with experience in neurology, oncology, chronic disease, and end-of-life care. She holds a law degree from Rutgers University, a Masters in Organizational Development from the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters of Social work from the University of Vermont. Audrey brings 40 years of experience in the field of organizational and community work, personal empowerment and patient-centered care. As a medical psycho-therapist she empowers clients to enhance one’s lived experience today, while engaging in shared decision making for tomorrow.
On Thursday, August 25, 2022, Patient Choices Vermont (PCV) Board Member Dr. Diana Barnard, in collaboration with the national organization Compassion & Choices and Lynda Bluestein, a terminally ill Connecticut resident seeking medical aid in dying, filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the residency requirement contained in Vermont's Act 39. PCV applauds this work and stands ready to educate the public about the availability of medical aid in dying across state lines.
Like many Vermonters, I have been distraught over the U.S. Supreme Court decision to reverse Roe vs Wade. As a lawyer, I am keenly aware that this reversal of a half-century of legal precedent is tied to legal and political theories that pose broader threats to our rights to bodily autonomy.
We are pleased to announce that Senate Bill 74 was signed by the Governor today, marking an important milestone for Vermonters who value end-of-life choice. This bill, passed with strong tri-partisan support, updates and improves the state’s Patient Choice at End of Life Law, Act 39.
PRESS RELEASE: Vermont House Gives Preliminary Approval to Bill to Improve 2013 Medical Aid-in-Dying Law
SB 74, already approved by Senate, would make three critical improvements to Act 39
(April 13, 2022 - Montpelier, VT) 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.
We are pleased to announce that the Vermont House Committee on Human Services has scheduled a hearing on S.74 on Thursday, March 31 at 9:15 am. The Committee invited Dr. Diana Barnard; Kim Callinan, President of Compassion & Choices, and myself Betsy Walkerman, President of Patient Choices Vermont (PCV) to testify. We look forward to sharing our team's expertise with our legislators. You can listen live on March 31 or replay afterwards on the Vermont House Committee on Human Services YouTube Channel.
See below for how to contact your representatives.
Over the course of a few days, my mother, PCV co-founder Ginny Walters, said goodbye to family and friends, drifted off to sleep and died peacefully. She was 96.
Ginny’s extensive computing and organizational skills and her ability to write cogently and clearly were instrumental in launching and sustaining Patient Choices Vermont during the eleven-year legislative campaign from 2002 to 2013. While my father, Dick Walters, was the outspoken face of PCV, Ginny provided the backbone, editing the website, running a meticulous supporter database, coordinating volunteers and editing every piece of writing that went out the door. Even a few days before she died, Ginny was still sending me articles that she thought we could post on the PCV Facebook page.
We are pleased to report that on Tuesday, January 25, 2022 the Vermont Senate passed Senate Bill 74, which updates and improves Act 39.
PCV wishes to thank Senator Ruth Hardy for her presentation of the bill on the Senate floor and her deeply knowledgeable responses to questions. We also thank Senator Ginny Lyons and the members of the Health & Welfare Committee for their careful consideration of the bill. Thanks as well to the bill sponsors, Senator Richard McCormack, Senator Ginny Lyons, Senator Alison Clarkson, and Senator Michael Sirotkin.
Special Thanks to Willem Jewett
At the end of December, Former Representative Willem Jewett contacted PCV offering to share his story with the hope that it would help with passage of S.74. Willem Jewett was majority leader in the House of Representatives in 2013 and played a critical role in the passage of Act 39. We were very sad to learn of his rapid decline from cancer. In his last weeks, he made a priority of continuing his advocacy, while he prepared to use medical aid in dying himself. Our deep condolences to his family and friends.
In early January, we recorded this conversation which was quoted on the Senate floor, and brought the importance of S.74 to a personal level.
PCV was instrumental in connecting Willem Jewett to reporters at VTDigger, resulting in these two articles:
When Vermont’s medical-aid-in-dying law, Act 39 was created, legislators placed great weight on preventing its improper use. Now, with eight years of experience and zero reports of abuse, it’s time to listen to Vermont's terminally ill people, the ones the law was intended to serve, by making it less onerous for dying people to properly use Act 39.
Under PCV’s guidance, Senate Bill S.74 was introduced in February 2021 to make three important improvements to the law:
“Those 48 hours were a nightmare. Just the sheer emotional toll it took on my mother was so painful to watch.” —Duncan Allen-Burns, son of Dee Allen, who used aid in dying in 2020.
Duncan was referring to the mandatory 48-hour delay that all patients must endure after all other parts of the rigorous Act 39 approval process have been completed. This delay caused Dee Allen great fear that she would not be able to self-administer the medication by the time the 48 hours had passed.
“I could not wait to get through that timeline. Removal of that in-person requirement would be a huge relief.”— Karen Oelschlaeger.
The Act 39 process requires that two separate requests to use Act 39 be made at least 15 days apart — in the physical presence of the doctor. Karen Oelschlaeger was 37 years old and dying from stomach cancer. You can hear the pain and frustration in her voice on her video on PCV’s website as she describes the arduous process of traveling to required appointments.
Act 39 currently provides legal immunity only for doctors. Participation by supporting medical personnel and pharmacists would be more consistent and predictable if legal immunity were explicitly spelled out for everyone involved in the process.
The challenge before us now is to guide Senate Bill S.74 through both houses of the Vermont legislature during the 2022 session. We laid the groundwork in 2021.
You can help Act 39 patients avoid needless suffering.
Thousands of people benefit from our work!
Successful legislative action requires time, effort and, frankly, money.
Many thanks to all of you who have supported PCV’s work over the years. Thank you to those who send notes of encouragement and share stories. Thank you to those who make gifts in honor of dear friends. Thank you to those who give monthly. Thank you to our major donors who can afford and choose to give $1,000 or more to this important cause.
All donations speak to the strength of our community and commitment to this basic civil right.
Patient Choices Vermont is the only Vermont organization focused on the rights of people who seek medical aid in dying.
The best part of our work is seeing the impact we have at such a meaningful time of life.
“I couldn’t be more behind her decision, and that’s coming from a place of pure love.
We really appreciate the work that you are doing. We’re very thankful our mom was in a state where she got to choose the way she went out.” —Dee Allen’s son, Duncan
Patient Choices Vermont
PO Box 671
Shelburne, VT 05482