Gov. Peter Shumlin signs the end-of-life bill at the statehouse in Montpelier on Monday, May 20, 2013. (AP Photo)
Gov. Peter Shumlin signs the end-of-life bill at the statehouse in Montpelier on Monday, May 20, 2013. (AP Photo)
Wednesday May 22, 2013

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the End-of-Life Choices law on Monday, effective immediately. Some basics about the new law:

1. RECORDKEEPING: The Vermont Health Department must create the form that physicians must use when reporting they have prescribed lethal doses of medicine to patients. However, people with terminal illnesses are free to begin working with their physicians immediately to use the law.

2. SIX MONTHS TO LIVE: Among other requirements to qualify, patients must be suffering from a terminal illness and have less than six months to live. They must state three times, once in writing, that they wish to end their lives. There must also be a concurring opinion from a second doctor that a patient has less than six months to live and a finding that the patient is of sound mind.

3. INSURANCE COVERAGE: Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen said it's expected health insurance will cover the process.

4. THE FOURTH STATE: Vermont joins Oregon, the first state in the country to implement such a law, called in that state the Death with Dignity Act, after a public referendum; Washington state followed, and a court order in Montana made it legal there.

5. THE PROCESS OF DYING: In Oregon and Washington, patients who take advantage of the Death with Dignity law use the drug pentobarbital, a barbiturate, that is dissolved in liquid or semi-liquid, said George Eighmey, a board member of the Death with Dignity National Center in Portland, Ore. The patient doesn't eat for four or five hours before taking an anti-nausea drug and the lethal drug about an hour after that. It takes about five minutes for the patient to fall into a coma. The average length of time until death is about two hours, Eighmey said.