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Richard "Dick" Walters, a leader in the effort to get the state to pass aid-in-dying legislation, used the rules established under the law to end his own life on Friday. He was 90 and had been battling cancer.
Walters, the leader of Patient Choices Vermont, died at a Shelburne retirement community where he had been staying, said the Necrason Group, a Montpelier lobbying firm that worked with him.
"Dick was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2014, yet continued to engage in significant discussions in connection with end of life choice," the group said a statement. "His health declined very rapidly over the past two months, and Dick was grateful to be able to direct his own end of life under Act 39."
Walters was born in New York in 1925. He graduated from Yale University, served in the U.S. Navy and worked in retail merchandising before becoming a regular at the Statehouse in recent years while advocating for his death-with-dignity cause.
The 2013 law allows a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to someone who is diagnosed as having six months or less to live and who requests it. Vermont was the first state to enact an aid-in-dying law through legislation; others had done so through referendum.
Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin said he spoke with Walters on Tuesday.
"He was grateful for an extraordinary life and felt no anger or sadness about his illness," Shumlin said.
He called Walters courageous and said he "gave selflessly to the causes he believed in, including the right for terminally ill patients like himself to choose how they die."
Sen. Claire Ayer, a Democrat and chief sponsor of the measure in the Senate, said she spoke with Walters a couple of days ago and he was "so upbeat, so happy for a chance to say goodbye to his family and friends."
"I was so impressed with his attitude and his gratitude," Ayer said.
Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, a Democrat and an opponent of the aid-in-dying measure, said Walters "was always a gentleman."
Though they disagreed on the issue, they dealt with each other with a great deal of respect, he said.
"He's somebody who will be remembered for his courage in discussing the issue, bringing something that is normally so private and making it public in order to support an issue he cared so deeply about," Campbell said.