Hospital: Vt. death law policy could take months

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont’s largest hospital likely won’t come up with a policy to implement the state’s new aid-in-dying law until around the end of the year, its top medical officer says.

Dr. Stephen Leffler of Fletcher Allen said the hospital will soon hold the third in a series of meetings to ask medical staff members to offer their views on how best to implement the law.

In May, Vermont became the fourth state to allow physicians to prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients who request it. Oregon, Washington and Montana have also legalized it.

Some hospitals have adopted interim policies, but most are still working on whether they want to participate or take advantage of an exemption in the law allowing health care providers to opt out, said Cory Gustafson, government affairs specialist at the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

Both Gustafson and Leffler said the role of hospitals in implementing the law may be limited since many patients who would be interested in physician assisted suicide would want to die at home.

Fletcher Allen’s current interim policy is that no physician is allowed to write a prescription for the end-of-life drugs with the expectation that a patient would use them within the walls of the hospital, Leffler said.

The hospital, with its roughly 750 affiliated doctors, is working toward a decision on whether to keep that as the permanent policy or make a change. “The hope is that it would be formally voted on at our December meeting.”

Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, a national group that supports the legislation, said she isn’t aware of any impatience from patients or advocates on the speed of implementation of the law.

“We’re not frustrated. We understand that hospitals go deliberately when they develop new policy,” she said.

She said the law is already having a positive effect, bringing “peace of mind” to patients from just being there.

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