By Jacob Dawson/VTDigger
A state law allowing people with terminal illnesses to end their lives with the aid of a physician was used by 28 Vermonters during a recent two-year period, according to a recent state Health Department report.
In 2013, then-Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law Act 39, which allows patients with conditions like cancer, ALS and neurodegenerative diseases to request a prescription for lethal drugs to hasten their death.
The report released this week — which covered the two years between July 1, 2017, June 30, 2019 — said that 34 patients qualified for the terminal prescriptions under Vermont’s law. Of those, 24 had cancer, four had ALS, three had neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, and three others had unspecified conditions.
All 34 patients are now deceased, with 28 having used the lethal drugs, five dying from the underlying disease and one whose cause of death is considered unknown.
Biennial reports that included the compiling of certain data were required under Act 27, which was enacted in 2015.
Under the aid-in-dying law, doctors are protected from liability when prescribing the drugs to those individuals with a prognosis of death within six months.
Patients must make the request voluntarily and administer the drugs themselves. They also must receive a second opinion confirming the diagnosis and undergo a mental health evaluation.
The first report by the Health Department following passage of the law was released in 2017 and covered the period between May 31, 2013, and June 30, 2017. During that time of just more than four years, 52 patients had met the requirements to end their own life; of those, 43 had cancer, seven had ALS and the remaining two had other conditions.
That initial report confirmed the deaths of 48 of the 52 patients, with the remaining four believed to still be alive at the time the report was released. Among the 48 confirmed deaths, 29 used lethal drugs prescribed to them, 17 died from their diseases, one died from “other causes” and one was labeled as unknown.
Vermont is one of eight states to have a physician-assisted death law, but it was the first to do so through the state Legislature rather than by way of a public referendum.
In his 2017 farewell address, Shumlin revealed publicly that his father, George, had used the law to end his life in 2014 while battling cancer.