VT governor signs end-of-life choices into law - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

VT governor signs end-of-life choices into law

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MONTPELIER, VT (WCAX/CBS) -

For many in the large crowd gathered Monday in the Vermont governor's Ceremonial Office, it was a moment a decade in the making.

As Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed end-of-life choices into law, he lauded a healthy debate and active participation by citizens as what sets Vermont apart from other states.

"We have conversations about difficult issues where we disagree. And we have those conversations with good judgement, fairness, and inclusiveness," said Shumlin.

The new law, which allows physicians to prescribe lethal doses to terminally ill patients, is the first ever passed by state legislators in the nation.  Similar bills have been passed in a handful other states, but by referendum.  Advocates say the number of Vermonters who will actually take a lethal dose will be much smaller than the number who fill the prescription or who ask their doctors about their options.

"A lot of patients express an interest in having access to the possibility that they might be able to access this law if they need it," said Dr. Diana Barnard with Patient Choices Vermont.

But those who oppose the law say it lacks strict oversight once a person fills the prescription.

"We vigorously oppose this bill and we did everything in our power to keep it from being enacted," said Carolyn McMurray, of True Dignity Vermont.

McMurray and the group True Dignity Vermont say they are transitioning from lobbyists to watchdogs now that the bill has become law.

"We have setup a hotline to receive reports of abuse, either from people who are afraid themselves or who know somebody they think is being abused," said McMurray.

The law allows physicians and hospitals to opt out of participating. Many hospitals have implemented temporary policies against allowing admitted patients to take lethal doses until new policies can be created.

"We have to meet with our committees and decide if this is something that makes sense for us to do in the hospital or is it something that should be done in the patient's home with their provider," said Dr. Stephen Leffler Fletcher with Allen Health Care.

Leffler says that's a process that could take between six and nine months.
"We've been waiting 10 years for this law to pass and we very much want to have people feel comfortable with the way that it is unfolding, and it will take as much time as it takes," said Leffler.

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