By Erin Mansfield, VTDigger.org
Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law Wednesday, May 20, a bill that makes permanent a series of protections in the state’s death with dignity law, otherwise known as physician-assisted suicide.
The law passed the Legislature in 2013 and became Act 39, but the procedural requirements and additional safeguards in the bill were set to sunset in 2016 without legislative action.
Shumlin signed S.108, “an act relating to repealing the sunset on provisions pertaining to patient choice at end of life,” at a natural foods store owned by Katy Lesser, whose sister, Maggie Lake, was one of the first in Vermont who used the law to end her life, one of up to six people who have so far. Lake suffered multiple bouts of cancer over a nine-year period before requesting a lethal prescription.
“A person who was not going to recover, who had less than six months to live, who suffers greatly, had a choice in the way she died,” Lesser said of her sister. “My family is ever so grateful that we got to use Act 39.”
Lake, from Putney, was a close friend of Shumlin and his family. He read a text message from Lake’s son, Hayden Lake, thanking him for signing Act 39 in 2013 to help terminally ill Vermonters end their lives.
Patient Choices of Vermont, House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, and several other lawmakers joined Lesser at the store she owns, Healthy Living, to watch the bill become law. However, the measure remains controversial among lawmakers, advocacy groups and some doctors.
The Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare issued a statement after the bill signing vowing it would fight to repeal the law, saying the legislation pressures people into choosing physician-assisted suicide when they are terminally ill.