While Oregon got a great deal of media attention when a young woman, Brittany Maynard, decided to use its law to end her life when she was dying of cancer last year; Vermont was actually the first state to have its legislature pass an aid in dying law. Vermont’s law permits a capable terminally ill adult to request and obtain lethal drugs which the person can self administer in an effort to hasten the patient’s imminent death.  Vermont’s law is a stepped version which has a series of patient protections in place that must be complied with that will cease to exist in 2016. Those protections put in place in the bill in an effort to garner the legislative support necessary to pass the measure provides:

— A requirement for a psychiatric evaluation if there is any indication that a patient requesting lethal medication has impaired judgment

— A 15-day waiting period between a patient’s first and second request for the medication

— A waiting period after the last request before the doctor actually writes a prescription for the lethal drug.

Upon the expiration of these so-called patient protections, the discussion regarding the end-of-life decision of a terminally ill patient becomes a private conversation between a patient and his or her doctor. There are those who are concerned that government should still be involved in the discussion, not really trusting that the patient-physician relationship would sufficiently address concerns.

According to articles written on the issue following the passage of Vermont’s law, “after July 1, 2016, the law will protect physicians from civil or criminal liability, and from professional misconduct charges.” Despite the changes that are set to occur in 2016, there still needs to be informed consent on the part of the patient so doctors are required to inform a terminally ill patient of all the options including hospice and palliative care. Ultimately, though, the issue is still a decision to be made by the patient in conjunction with his or her doctor.

The issue of whether or not the patient “protections” that are presently in place should be continued past 2016 is a discussion that is currently taking place in Vermont. If this issue touches you or someone in your family, perhaps now is the time to voice your opinion.

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