Report outlines number of Vermonters using state's aid-in-dying law

Published: Dec. 26, 2019 at 3:27 PM EST
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A new report from the Vermont Department of Health outlines how many people use the state's aid-in-dying law. Our Calvin Cutler has a look at the numbers.

The report released on Monday shows from July of 2017 to June of 2019, 28 people used the state's physician-assisted death program to end their lives.

In 2013, then-Gov. Peter Shumlin signed Act 39 into law, allowing doctors to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients who request it. The patient must make the decision on their own and take the drugs themselves. They also have to speak with doctors and have mental health evaluations.

The law is aimed at reducing the suffering of terminally ill patients with diseases like ALS and cancer.

Over the past two years, doctors have filled 34 prescriptions under the law. Of those cases, 24 patients had cancer, four had ALS and six had diseases like Parkinson's or similar conditions.

The state says of the 34 people who passed away, 28 died from a lethal prescription, five died from their underlying diseases and one person's cause of death is unknown.

Death with dignity laws have sparked controversy here in Vermont and across the country. Opponents say the laws don't provide enough protection or options for those who are disabled or could be coerced by people. But those in favor say people living with sometimes painful terminal illnesses should have the choice to end their lives early.

Vermont is one of eight states with some kind of physician-assisted suicide law.

In 2017, the state issued a similar report on the physician-assisted deaths like we saw earlier this week. From 2013 to 2017, there were 29 deaths in that category. According to the Vermont Department of Health, physicians prescribed meds to 52 patients.

That means from when the law was passed to date, 57 Vermonters have used the program.