Ex-MP dies using medical suicide law he helped pass nearly a decade ago

Vermont Rep. Willem Jewett

Ex-MP dies using medical suicide law he helped pass nearly a decade ago

A former Vermont lawmaker died last week using the Medicaid Act he helped pass nearly nine years ago, before his final diagnosis. Willem Jewitt (D), who served as House Majority Leader for two years from 2013 to 2014, died January 12 at his home in Repton, Vatu, aged 58.

"His life was interrupted by mucinous melanoma, but she was remarkably full and lived well," loved ones wrote in his obituary. Remember the New York-born Jewett's passion for the outdoors and adventure. Jewett, an avid cyclist, rode a 200-mile circuit around his high school campus for a study project, and then as a lawmaker, cycled 50 miles from his home in Repton to the capital in Montpellier as part of the state's annual Earth Day Celebration.

Jewett's suffered from cancer diagnosis didn't stop his adventurous streak: He continued his annual group camping trip to Kingdom trails and mountain biking in Vermont.

Jewett survived his wife, Elaine Blackmer McKay, and two daughters from his first marriage. Jewett's survivors could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Senator Dick McCormack, a Democrat who voted for the original 2013 law and is the main sponsor of the current amendment, noted Jewett's commitment to Act 39 even as he faced opposition in the General Assembly.

"What I knew about William was that he was a compassionate man, and he also had a libertarian streak. William had such a capacity for that when he saw something obvious," McCormack told The Washington Post on Thursday.

"If anyone wanted to suggest that I, or anyone else who had reached this stage, did not think long and deeply about it, and if they made the request, or did not do so with the information, or at the end of what was published," Jewett said in the interview published on the day he died. Do people think we do when we get sick in bed? There is a lot of time to think and come up with things like that."

Vermont is among the nine states and the District of Columbia where terminally ill patients can obtain prescriptions to end their lives. Consideration of amending Vermont's existing law comes as at least three states - Delaware, Massachusetts, and New York - are considering similar legislation.

Jewett said in his recent interview with VTDigger that the amendment to Law 39 that Jewett lobbied would remove the barriers he faced in his final weeks.

Under Vermont law, patients over the age of 18 with the condition that can kill them within six months who can make independent medical decisions can request a deadly prescription from a doctor. 

Vermont's proposed amendment would eliminate a 48-hour final waiting period, provide immunity from state-mandated homicide laws for nurses and pharmacists to assist a patient, and allow patients to consult with doctors via telemedicine — a requirement McCormack said was crucial in a situation where they many. Otherwise, rural people are forced to make painful and uncomfortable trips to the doctor while terminally ill.

According to Jewett's recent interview, he received his diagnosis in September 2020. Doctors warned him that it could take up to two to three months to seek medical help. Jewett reportedly began his request in December.

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