Vt. end-of-life law: 1 year later - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. end-of-life law: 1 year later

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On the one-year anniversary of the governor signing a measure allowing terminally ill Vermonters to take a fatal prescription, Marnie Wood recalls her sister's passing five years ago. Nancy, who went by Nan, picked a sun-soaked spring day like this one as her final day.

"Nancy had what I like to call a beautiful death on a sunny spring day in Portland surrounded by loving family and friends," Wood said. "She had a terminal illness and it was her choice to hasten the end."

Nan suffered from ALS, a fatal degenerative nerve disease and took her own life under Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.

Wood says she sees her own work to pass Vermont's similar Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act as providing that same opportunity to Vermonters in similar circumstances.

"I know there are other patients who are currently alive that are comforted knowing they can have access to this choice," Wood said.

Wood says patients don't need to pursue it to find comfort in its presence on the books.

So far, only two Vermonters have filled prescriptions for medication to end their lives, but both ultimately died of natural causes.

Vermont's largest hospital, Fletcher Allen Health Care, still does not allow doctors to prescribe deadly doses for hospitalized patients.

"At this point it's hard to tell how the law's being implemented because we frankly have so little experience with it," said Robert Harrington, the executive director of the Vermont Medical Society.

Harrington says group members continue to oppose laws for and against physician-assisted suicide. He says part of their concern with Vermont's current law is that it set up too bureaucratic a process, but he also says they don't support the sunset provision which will eliminate many of the law's checks and balances in 2016.

"These issues around death and dying are best left to physicians and patients at the bedside," Harrington said.

Wood says she will fight the sunset provision. She argues it protects all involved in the process.

A group that continues to campaign against the law and provides a hotline number to report abuse tells us they've received many hang-up calls, but only one report and that was of neglect in a nursing home.

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