Vermont rewrites law to offer assisted suicide to non-residents

Pills assisted suicide Credit Video Creative Shutterstock CNA Video_Creative / Shutterstock.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont signed a bill Tuesday allowing non-residents to avail themselves of the state’s assisted suicide law.

Vermont legalized assisted suicide in 2013, but with this new law became the first state in the nation to change its legislation to allow the life-ending procedure to those living out of state, according to the Associated Press.

Oregon stopped enforcing its residency requirement for assisted suicide in 2022 but has not enshrined that provision in law.

Earlier this year Vermont reached a settlement with a Connecticut woman who had sued the state over its residency requirement for assisted suicide.

According to the Vermont Department of Health, assisted suicide is available for those “suffering from an incurable and irreversible disease” that will end the patient’s life within six months.

After a doctor determines death is imminent, a patient must make an oral and written request for the lethal dosage. There must be two people over the age of 18 who sign the written request as witnesses to affirm that “the patient appeared to understand the nature of the document and to be free from duress or undue influence at the time the request was signed,” the law says.

Participation in assisted suicide by any physician, nurse, or pharmacist must be “completely voluntary,” according to the state’s Department of Health.

Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne told CNA in a statement Wednesday that palliative care is the best way to help those who are suffering.

“While the Catholic Church believes in the sanctity of all life from conception to natural death, we also understand the necessity to alleviate the pain of those dealing with terminal illness. Palliative care provides relief from a variety of symptoms for people living with serious illnesses while addressing the spiritual and emotional concerns of individuals and their loved ones. This holistic care focuses on the whole person — mind, body, and spirit. Assisted suicide does not,” he said.

“In a society in which we are dealing with an epidemic of loneliness, we need to be with those who are often alone in their suffering. It is important to acknowledge the pain of the person who is suffering from a terminal illness. We must support them, care for them, and accompany them along their journey from life in this world into the next,” Coyne said. 

“In 2013, Bishop Matano, my predecessor, called the passage of this bill ‘A tragic moment in the rich history of our state.’ I echo his sentiment with this new legislation which removes a residency requirement and expands access to assisted suicide,” he said.

Assisted suicide in the U.S.

Ten states and Washington, D.C., have already legalized assisted suicide across the country and 12 states are considering legislation in 2023. 

In 2015, the state Legislature signed a bill mandating the Department of Health to make a biennial report of assisted suicide statistics. 

Twenty-nine people sought assisted suicide from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2021, according to the Vermont Department of Health’s 2022 report. The report said that not all 29 filled the prescription though. The department uses an electronic data system to collect information about prescriptions.

From May 31, 2013, to June 30, 2021, 116 people sought assisted suicide in Vermont, the report said. 

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This article has been updated.

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