BURLINGTON (AP) - A Middlebury man became the first to request a lethal prescription under Vermont's new assisted suicide law last month, but his sister said he died before picking up the medication.
Jason Saltman, 47, died Nov. 22, his sister, Laura Saltman told the Burlington Free Press.
She told the newspaper that her brother had stomach cancer and was suffering from increasing pain near the end. She said fluid buildup swelled his legs preventing him from walking and he required oxygen 24 hours a day.
"He was just in misery," Laura Saltman said. "He said to me over and over he was ready and he wasn't scared."
He planned to pick up the medication on Nov. 22, a Friday, and take the medication the following Monday. Laura Saltman and her parents were traveling from where they live in California to be with him. He died early on the morning of Nov. 22 before they could get there, she said.
"I truly believe that it was by design he didn't want us to see him that way. Having us come there was more stressful. I think this is the way he wanted to go," she said.
The law, which took effect in May, allows terminally ill patients with less than six months to live to hasten their deaths. The family was told that Saltman's request for the prescription was the first in the state, Laura Saltman said.
Robert Stirewalt, a spokesman for the Vermont Health Department, confirmed that the state received the first form for a lethal prescription from a physician within the last month, but said that the details were not public record.
In May, Vermont became the fourth state in the country to allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients seeking to end their lives. Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen said at the time that he expected that doctors would write between 10 and 20 lethal prescriptions a year, with a smaller number of patients actually using the drugs.
He based his figures on the experience in Oregon, the first state to legalize assisted suicide in 1997. Washington state and Montana followed later, with Montana's coming by way of a court order.
In its first three years, the Vermont law will resemble the Oregon model, which has built-in safeguards, including requirements that patients state three times - once in writing - that they wish to die. Other safeguards include 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.
After July 1, 2016, Vermont will move to a model pushed by some senators who complained of too much government intervention. The new model would require less monitoring and reporting by doctors. But many expect lawmakers may push to eliminate those changes and leave the original model in place.
Information from: The Burlington Free Press, http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com