Willem Jewett: Former Vermont lawmaker dies using medical suicide law he helped pass

He also campaigned for modifications to the original 2013 law to make it simpler for terminally ill persons to obtain a prescription for suicide

                            Willem Jewett: Former Vermont lawmaker dies using medical suicide law he helped pass
William Jewett dies using medical suicide (Credits: Willem Jewett's Facebook)

Willem Jewett, a 58-year-old former Vermont legislator and majority leader in the State House, committed medical suicide after being diagnosed with melanoma a year ago. He died in his Ripton, Vermont home on January 12, 2020, surrounded by his family. He had mucosal melanoma, a rare type of cancer, and as a member of the legislature, he campaigned for modifications to the original 2013 law to make it simpler for terminally ill persons to obtain a prescription for suicide. "It is very Willem fashion to still be pushing for legislation that he believed in and using his ability to advocate for people," his daughter Abigail Jewett said Wednesday to DailyMail.com.

Willem was a competitive cyclist and a lawyer who believed in making a big difference. From 2003 to 2016, he served in the Vermont House of Representatives, where he was known for his vigour, wit, and intelligence, as well as for riding his bike over 50 miles to the Statehouse for the annual Earth Day ride. In 2011, he was promoted to assistant majority leader and then majority leader. "He lived life as if there wasn't a moment to spare," House Speaker Shap Smith said. "In the Legislature, he was great to work with, very smart and definitely had a feisty side." After a day of debate in which members contributed memories of their own loved ones' deaths, the House gave final approval to the bill in 2013. At the time, Jewett, the majority leader, said, "I've listened to all these stories, very personal stories, and I respect every single one of them."


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Willem was born to Marianne van Hoorn and Joseph Jewett in Larchmont, New York, in 1963. His family eventually moved to Westport, Connecticut, where he attended Loomis-Chaffe School in Windsor, where he developed an interest in leisure sports like cycling, and graduated in 1981. In 1985, he graduated from Bowdoin College with a bachelor's degree in psychology before returning to school for his law degree at Lewis & Clark. In 1992, Jewett married Jean Cherouny and constructed a home in Ripton with her, and where they raised their two daughters, Abigail, 22, and Anneke, 25.


In 1994, he joined the Conley & Foote Law Firm as an attorney, where he stayed until 2017, when he left to create his own firm. Beginning in 1998, he served on the Ripton School Board as a member of the public sector. In 2002, he ran for the Vermont House of Representatives. Jewett was elected to represent the towns of Cornwall, Goshen, Hancock, Leicester, Ripton, and Salisbury. He was the House Majority Leader from 2013 to 2014, after previously serving as an assistant in the House. He used his position in the House Judiciary Committee to campaign for causes like same-sex marriage, which he helped Vermont become the first state to legislate in 2009. Willem was remembered fondly by his coworkers for his charming nature, which enabled him build good friendships throughout the years. 


Willem left the state legislature in 2016 after 14 years in the House of Representatives. He did, however, continue his legal career and founded Mad River Valley Law with buddy Jenn Blomback. He returned to cycling and competed alongside his teammates from Jackalope Northeast Cycling, winning numerous awards.

After finding a bump beneath his clavicle in 2008, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. "I guess if I have a problem now on the energy level, it’s having too much," Willem told the Independent in 2008. "Maybe (with chemotherapy) I’ll have the energy of only one person." He married Ellen McKay a few months before his death, after knowing her for four years. He was later diagnosed with mucosal melanoma, a rare type of cancer. But that didn't stop him from using what little strength he had left to lobby for changes to Act 39, which permits assisted suicide. He died on January 12 with his family by his side, sharing his final moments.