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At Emotional Ceremony, Shumlin Signs End-Of-Life Bill

Taylor Dobbs
Katy Lesser looked on as Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill to extend Vermont's law allowing terminally ill patients to end their lives. Lesser's sister used the law to end her life earlier this year.

Two years to the day after Vermont made it legal for terminally ill patients to get a prescription from a doctor to end their own lives, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill to extend the law.

Standing next to him as he signed it was Katy Lesser, who has a very personal experience with the so-called “death with dignity” law.

“My family is so grateful that we got to use Act 39,” she said at a news conference at Healthy Living Market in South Burlington, which she co-owns.

Lesser’s sister, Maggie Lake, chose to end her life this year after having mantle cell lymphoma for years.

“Just by pure coincidence, I’ve known Maggie most of my life,” Shumlin said. Both Shumlin and Lake are from Putney.  “Her daughter Nora used to babysit my daughters. Her son is not only a friend of mine but my forester. Maggie was the nurse to my daughters in high school.”

Shumlin said “you could not find a person who loved life more than Maggie Lake.”

Lake had cancer for nine years, Shumlin said, and there were many occasions throughout those years when her supporters thought she would beat it.

Because he knew her family, Shumlin offered condolences to Lake’s son when he heard of her death.

“He just said ‘Thank you so much for your support. She was an irreplaceable mother. She will be deeply missed, service is in June,’ so on and so forth,” Shumlin said of the exchange. “Then I said ‘Thanks. Thinking of you. Lots of love.’ He wrote back this: ‘I also want to thank you deeply for Vermont’s death with dignity law.’ I had no idea at that point that point that Maggie had used Vermont’s death with dignity law. ‘It allowed my mother to leave the world without prolonged pain and suffering.’”

Shumlin said, uncharacteristically quietly, “I think that tells the story of why we’ve all worked so hard on this bill.”

Lesser appeared to be fighting tears as she stood next to Shumlin to watch him sign the bill to extend the law past its original expiration date. After the signing, she said she feels no regret about the end of her sister’s life.

“Only missing her, but the joy that comes with knowing she got to do her life exactly the way she wanted to,” Lesser said.

Correction 11:59 a.m. 5/24/2015 An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the store Lesser co-owns.

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