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The complexities of medical aid in dying in Vermont

a framed photo of five people facing forward
Mikaela Lefrak
/
Vermont Public
On August 30, 2022, Stanley and Elaine Fitch, front, took a lethal dose of medication prescribed by a doctor. Their daughters, also pictured here, were with them, singing and holding their hands. Then, Stanley and Elaine died in the same way they lived: together.

If you live in Vermont, and you have a terminal illness, where and when you die could be up to you. Charlie Bestard of Hartland asked Brave Little State about the state’s medical aid in dying law: How many Vermonters have used it, and how does the medical establishment view it?

Brave Little State is Vermont Public's listener-powered journalism show. We answer questions about Vermont that have been asked and voted on by you, our audience — because we think our journalism is better when you're a part of it.

“Medical aid in dying,” a process that's only legal in 10 states and Washington, D.C., was a controversial idea when it was first introduced in Vermont. For the most part, the debate has quieted down here since it became legal in 2013, with the passage of Act 39.

That silence is part of what prompted Charlie Bestard of Hartland to submit his question:

"How many Vermonters use this option each year? And how does the medical establishment view it?"

To answer Charlie's question, reporter Mikaela Lefrak explores how the process works in Vermont, and shares stories from the people who support Vermonters in their final days.

Note: Our show is produced for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio; for accessibility, click here to find a written episode transcript.

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A black and white framed photo of a person
Mikaela Lefrak
/
Vermont Public
Stanley Fitch as a young man. To qualify for medical aid in dying, you have to be at least 18 years old. And you have to have a terminal illness – meaning a doctor has determined that you have six months or less to live. You have to be able to make an informed and voluntary request, and be able to self-administer the medication. You also have to be a Vermont resident.

Three people facing forward and locking arms
Mikaela Lefrak
/
Vermont Public
Diane Fitch, left, Judy Fitch Robert and Donna Fitch. Act 39 has spurred people across the state to talk more openly about death and dying, regardless of whether they support the law or not. People like the Fitch sisters, who helped their parents navigate medical aid in dying, are role models in that conversation.

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Credits

Mikaela Lefrak reported this episode. Josh Crane produced it and did the mix and sound design. Editing and additional help from the rest of the Brave Little State team: Angela Evancie, Myra Flynn and Mae Nagusky. Ty Gibbons composed our theme music; other music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Special thanks to Jaina Clough, Erica Heilman, Lynda Bluestein and Chelsea Chalfant.

As always, our journalism is better when you’re a part of it:

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public.

Mikaela Lefrak joined Vermont Public in 2021 as co-host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Josh Crane is part of Vermont Public's Engagement Journalism team. He's a reporter and producer for Brave Little State, a podcast based on questions about Vermont that have been asked and voted on by the audience.
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