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Gov. Shumlin signs historic End-of-Life Choices bill into law

On Monday, May 20, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed End-of-Life Choices legislation into law, making Vermont the third state in the nation to enact such a change and the first to approve end-of-life choices through legislative action. Death with Dignity, as the measure is also known, became law in Oregon and Washington through a public ballot initiative. Vermont's statute is modeled on Oregon's 15-year-old law.

"Vermonters who face terminal illness and are in excruciating pain at the end of their lives now have control over their destinies. This is the right thing to do," said Gov. Shumlin, who was joined for the signing at the State House in Montpelier by lawmakers and advocates who have fought for the measure for a decade. Recognizing the deeply held convictions on this issue, the Governor said he appreciated that Vermont's debate over this complex bill was thorough and respectful.

Under the Vermont law, terminally ill patients in severe pain can work with their physicians and families to hasten the end of their lives with medication. The law includes safeguards, such as a requirement that the patient is suffering from an incurable disease which the physician believes will result in death within six months, and that the primary physician and a consulting doctor agree the patient's condition is terminal, that the patient is capable of making an informed decision to request death-inducing drugs, and that request is made twice over at least a 15-day period. In addition, the patients must administer the drugs to themselves. In three years, the law calls for some of these administrative safeguards to expire.

Only Vermont patients may utilize the law.