Patient Choice / Death with Dignity
Governor Madeleine Kunin (right) in an ad supporting patient choice and Death with Dignity.
One bill of many that I support is H.44. It is focused on patient choice and control at the end of life. Some have called this issue Death with Dignity, and some have even termed it Life with Dignity. In any case, H.44 was passed by the House Human Services Committee and I believe that it will eventually move the full House for a vote.
Last month I saw hundreds (yes hundreds) of supporters and opponents of the bill fill the State House. They stayed for hours to give their testimony, and what I heard was people speaking passionately from their hearts. I was deeply moved. They spoke about how the bill give terminally ill, mentally competent Vermonters who have been diagnosed with less than six months to live, the option to request prescription medication, which, if taken, would hasten the dying process.
The bill has many safeguards in place to ensure that this process is responsible and will not lead to the problems that many opponents articulated. The bill stipulates that only a patient who is a Vermont resident can initiate a request for the prescription, and the request must be both written and verbal and reiterated after a 15-day waiting period. The request may be rescinded at any time. Two witnesses must attest that the patient is acting voluntarily and not being coerced. A patient’s doctor must determine that the patient is competent, within six months of death and under no external pressure to make the request. A second doctor must verify the patient’s diagnosis, prognosis and competency and attest that the patient is acting voluntarily and not being coerced. If either physician believes the patient suffers from a psychological condition or depression, the patient must be referred for counseling. The bill was patterned after the Oregon patient-directed dying law that was passed in 1997, but the Vermont bill has more stringent safeguards in place.
If it passes into law, we will not only be one of two states to provide this important options to patients, but we will also continue a nationwide dialogue on this vital issue.As always, I welcome your thoughts on this and other issues.