By Chris Haring
Right-to-die activists scored a win when Vermont became the first state to scrap the residency requirement from its medical aid-in-dying law.
Right-to-die activists secured a significant win when Vermont became the first state to remove the residency requirement from its medical aid-in-dying law. As Livia Albeck-Ripka wrote for the New York Times, a legal battle between the state and a Connecticut woman living with late-stage cancer, Lynda Bluestein, ended in March with a settlement that stipulated that she – but nobody else – would be permitted to receive a prescription if and when she so chose. However, it wasn’t until Gov. Phil Scott signed H.190 that the expansion of accessible end-of-life options became state law – and activists now hope that Oregon, where a similar bill (HB2279) recently passed its state house, will be next.
(Disclaimer: As it appears in the following story, the term “assisted suicide” is problematic and inaccurate. Correct, appropriate terms include “medical aid in dying” or “physician-assisted dying/death.” Additionally, in jurisdictions with codified Death with Dignity laws, each specifies that medical aid in dying is in fact, not suicide, nor a means to assist in suicide, so to call it otherwise is technically and legally inaccurate.)
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Vermont Removes Residency Requirement for Medically Assisted Deaths
The change, signed into law by the state’s governor, followed a legal challenge brought by a 75-year-old Connecticut resident.
May 2, 2023
Vermont has become the first state to remove a residency requirement from its law on medically assisted death to allow terminally ill people from out of state access to life-ending care.
The law, which for a decade has permitted doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill people 18 or older, was amended Tuesday, when Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill scrapping the residency requirement.
The measure passed Vermont’s Senate and House last month following a legal battle brought against the state by a 75-year-old resident of Bridgeport, Conn., who has late-stage fallopian tube cancer and argued that Vermont’s restriction was unconstitutional. The state waived the residency requirement for the woman, Lynda Bluestein, as part of a settlement in March.
“I was always hoping that the Legislature would change the law and make it open to everyone,” Ms. Bluestein said by phone on Tuesday. “I was really thrilled.”
While Vermont is the first state to formally remove the residency requirement from its medically assisted suicide law, Oregon health authorities agreed in 2022 to stop enforcing its residency provision as part of a settlement in a similar federal lawsuit. A bill seeking to remove the requirement has since passed Oregon’s House. The state was the first to pass a medical aid in dying law, which took effect in 1997.
Several other states and the District of Columbia allow terminally ill residents access to life-ending treatments, but most do not permit nonresidents to access their care.
Advocates for improving end-of-life care said on Tuesday that they hoped other states would follow Vermont in allowing people to cross state lines to end their lives with dignity.
“Support for this is widespread and bipartisan,” said Kimberly Callinan, the chief executive of Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group that supports expanding access to end-of-life medication. “People universally want to be able to make decisions over how they die.”
But critics of assisted-dying laws argue that the practice remains a matter of contention. “There continue to be legitimate and serious concerns,” Mary Hahn Beerworth, a lobbyist with Vermont Right to Life, testified before a legislative committee earlier this year.
“Vermont Right to Life opposed the underlying concept behind assisted suicide and opposes the move to remove the residency requirement as there are still no safeguards that protect vulnerable patients from coercion,” Ms. Hahn Beerworth said. She noted a number of other concerns, including what might happen if the patient decided not to use a lethal dose of drugs, and instead took it back to their home state. She added, “If the drugs are taken and death occurs in Vermont, what happens with the body?”
Jennifer Popik, a spokeswoman for the National Right to Life, said in a statement that the organization was “deeply disappointed that Vermont is now poised to become a tourist destination for assisted suicide.” The laws, she added, posed a danger to “vulnerable groups.”
But Cassandra Johnston, 38, a resident of New York who has stage three breast cancer, said that Vermont’s law change on Tuesday had given her peace of mind, knowing she could go to the state to access care if needed. “This should be the standard of medical care, not the exception,” Ms. Johnston said.
Ms. Bluestein, whose legal battle preceded Vermont’s rule change on Tuesday, said that she still planned to go there when the time came for her to request life-ending medication.
Having such an option, Ms. Bluestein said, meant she could die on her own terms, surrounded by her family. She added, it’s “a tremendous relief.”