Experience and Attitudes Regarding Medical Aid in Dying, Act 39, among Vermont Specialty Practices

J Palliat Med. 2020 Mar;23(3):375-378. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2019.0192. Epub 2019 Oct 8.


Introduction: In 2013, the Vermont legislature passed Act 39: The Patient Choice and Control at End-of-Life Act, which legalized medical aid in dying (MAID) under specific circumstances for terminally ill Vermont residents. In the five years since the law was passed, 52 patients in Vermont have been prescribed medications to hasten death; however, important information regarding the experiences of the patient, caregiver, or physician involved in this process is lacking. Objective: To survey the subspecialty physicians with the greatest contact with these patient populations, to better understand the physicians' attitudes and experiences with Act 39, and to gather more data about the utilization of Act 39 in Vermont. Design: Physicians practicing Hematology/Oncology, Neurology, and/or Palliative Care at the University of Vermont Medical Group and affiliated hospitals in the state of Vermont were invited to participate. Participants were contacted via e-mail to complete blinded surveys, and responses were collected over several months in 2018. Results: The attitudes and practices related to Act 39 were collected from 37 subspecialty physicians in Vermont. Seventy-one percent of the participants supported MAID via Act 39; however, many felt that they could use more information and resources to counsel a patient (51.4%) and complete the paperwork and prescription for life-ending medication (37.4%). Conclusion: This is the first study to collect information regarding physicians' attitudes and experiences regarding Act 39 in Vermont. Most respondents supported Act 39, but there is a need and desire for more physician education and resources regarding patient counseling and paperwork.

Keywords: Vermont; medical aid in dying; physician attitudes; physician-assisted suicide.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care
  • Suicide, Assisted*
  • Terminally Ill
  • Vermont