Vermont (2013- )

On 20 May 2014 a community organisation, True Dignity Vermont, reported that since the law was enacted two clinical psychologists had cases of patients believing suicide was now a more acceptable option. Additionally, an 85 year old Korean war veteran from New Jersey suffering depression was seeking information on getting a lethal prescription in Vermont.

Assisted suicide laws tend to normalise suicide for everyone not just those who formally qualify under the law.


On 20 May 2013 the Governor of Vermont signed into law the Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act. The Act permits Vermont physicians to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients.

Suicide normalised

On 20 May 2014 a community organisation, True Dignity Vermont, reported that since the law was enacted two clinical psychologists had cases of patients believing suicide was now a more acceptable option. Additionally, an 85 year old Korean war veteran from New Jersey suffering depression was seeking information on getting a lethal prescription in Vermont.

These reports confirm the obvious: assisted suicide laws tend to normalise suicide for everyone not just those who formally qualify under the law.

Pressure to request assisted suicide

Beth Neill reports that her elderly mother, who was in a care facility for four months for rehabilitation  after a fall, was continually reminded by staff of her right to request assisted suicide, even though legally she would not qualify.

Clinicians at the Berlin Health and Rehab Center informed her mother at regular intervals during her 4-month stay there that she had a “right” to request assisted suicide, and that, “She didn’t even have to discuss it with her family.” This act of repeatedly bringing up this possibility as a health care “option” that caused her mother to feel pressure.  Neill said that her mother had made it clear she wanted nothing to do with assisted suicide and was disturbed that staff re-introduced the topic repeatedly.

Neill notes that her mother was, and is, in otherwise surprisingly good health for her age, and would not have qualified for Act 39, as the extended stay in Berlin Health and Rehab was strictly for help recovering from her fall.

Minimalist reporting

Compared even to Oregon and Washington, the official statistical report on assisted suicide in Vermont is extremely minimalist.

Only one report –covering the time period of May 31, 2013 and June 30th, 2017 – has so far been issued.

All we can learn from this is that over the four year period 52 prescriptions were issued under the Act for 43 cancer cases; 7 cases of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s) and 2 for other undisclosed conditions.

29 died from taking the lethal dose; 17 died from the underlying condition; 1 from “other causes”; 1 from an unknown cause; and 4 were apparently still alive.

The data was not broken down further by age, sex or by year of death.

No information is collected in Vermont on the reasons for requesting assisted suicide (apart from the underlying condition), on complications, or on the length of the patient-doctor relationship.

Conclusion

Vermont's experiment with assisted suicide has yielded no useful official data but anecdotal evidence points to suicide contagion and the fostering of a cavalier attitude among some clinicians towards to the elderly, actively encouraging access to assisted suicide instead of promoting a culture of care.

 

 

Download a fact sheet on Vermont 


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