Legislative support for medically assisted dying in the United States has risen steadily in recent years. Eight US jurisdictions (CA, CO, HI, OR, WA, MT, Washington D.C., and VT) currently authorize physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to a mentally competent, terminally ill, adult patient for the purpose of ending the patient’s life, provided that certain conditions are met. With ongoing legislative activities in many other states, these laws are expected to spread nationally. While such laws remain contentious, regardless of one’s moral position, this shifting legislative climate raises questions of broad public significance about how the legalization of assisted dying affects death, dying, and end-of-life care.
The Vermont Study on Aid-in-Dying investigates the implementation and cultural impact of Vermont’s “Patient Choice and Control at End of Life” Act (Act 39), enacted in May 2013. Due to the recent enactment of Act 39, and Vermont’s small size and the geographic proximity of key institutions, Vermont offers an unparalleled setting for documenting emergent responses to the law across multiple sites and actors (e.g. patients, caregivers, medical providers and administrators, activists, legislators). The goals of the project are to 1) provide information that can be used to enhance end-of-life communication and policymaking, and 2) contribute to anthropological understandings of the biomedical management of death.
If you are a researcher working on the topic of assisted dying, or if you have been affected by Act 39 in Vermont, I would love to hear from you!