By Chris Haring

A lawsuit from right-to-die advocates challenges residency requirements in the NJ Death with Dignity law, aiming to remove barriers for out-of-state patients.

In a significant development for the aid-in-dying movement, a recent lawsuit challenges New Jersey’s residency requirement within its Death with Dignity law.

Assisted dying in New Jersey has been restricted to residents of the state

New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act has been law since 2019. According to data from the state’s Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner, 95 residents utilized the law between its inception and the end of 2021.

However, the suit alleges that the law unfairly denies out-of-state residents access to services within New Jersey – a restriction that plaintiffs say violates the U.S. Constitution.

Nearby residents with terminal illnesses look to New Jersey for expanded end-of-life options

As NJ 101.5 FM journalist Dino Flammia wrote, Andrea Sealy – a 43-year-old Philadelphia resident battling metastatic breast cancer – has endured numerous surgeries, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. She said her primary concern is the suffering she might experience when she can no longer fight the disease.

Another plaintiff, a 79-year-old Delaware resident living with stage 4 lymphoma named Judy Govatos, emphasized that aid in dying is not about giving up on life but rather about enhancing the quality of time individuals have left.

Like those 95 in-state residents, Sealy and Govatos seek the choice to pass away peacefully on their terms, but assisted death remains prohibited in their respective home states.

New Jersey could join other states that have removed their aid-in-dying residency requirements

Recently, legal challenges have resulted in the removal of residence requirements in Vermont and Oregon. However, New Jersey has remained one of the nine jurisdictions in the United States with a residency mandate for physician-assisted dying.

Ultimately, right-to-die advocates hope that a positive outcome could impact the aid-in-dying movement across the nation as we strive for end-of-life options that provide dignity and autonomy to those facing terminal illnesses – no matter where they live.

Read the full article below:

Lawsuit says NJ’s aid-in-dying law unfairly blocks non-residents

Dino Flammia
Published: September 1, 2023

Andrea Sealy has been battling metastatic breast cancer for more than six years and understands that the odds of surviving are slim to none.

The 43-year-old has endured more than 10 surgeries, as well as multiple rounds of radiation therapy and a combo of oral chemo and hormonal therapy. But her main concern is the pain and suffering she’ll eventually have to face when she no longer has the strength to fight.

The Philadelphia resident wants the autonomy to die on her own terms, but unlike New Jersey, her state does not have a law on the books that allows dying individuals to obtain and take treatment for a peaceful passing.

To hopefully relieve her pain in the end, and the pain of others in the future, Sealy is part of a just-filed lawsuit against New Jersey that claims that the state’s aid-in-dying law is unfairly blocking out-of-state residents from participating.

“I don’t want to needlessly suffer,” Sealy said. “It’s just not something that I want for myself or my family.”

Sealy lives about 10 minutes from a bridge into the Garden State.

According to the lawsuit filed on Tuesday by Compassion & Choices, the residency mandate within New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act violates the U.S. Constitution.

According to the suit, patients in surrounding states “routinely” ask New Jersey physicians about the end-of-life option, but they are ineligible. The suit was filed on behalf of Sealy and 79-year-old Delaware resident Judy Govatos, as well as two New Jersey doctors.

“The option of medical aid in dying is not about giving up on life,” said Govatos, who’s living with stage 4 lymphoma. “Instead, it allows people like me to have more full, more active, more good days, more fully involved in life. I don’t want to die fearfully.”

Legal challenges from Compassion & Choices have resulted in the removal of residence requirements in both Vermont and Oregon. New Jersey is one of eight jurisdictions with a residency mandate in place.

“Arbitrarily barring medical care solely on the basis of where patients live not only violates the Constitution but upends the standard of care for health care delivery,” said Kevin Díaz, chief legal advocacy officer for Compassion & Choices.

New Jersey’s aid-in-dying law took effect in 2019. According to data from the New Jersey Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner, 95 New Jerseyans used the law between its inception and the end of 2021. New Jersey has not yet released figures for 2022.

New Jersey’s law applies to terminally ill residents who have a life expectancy of six months or less. The patient, who must have the capacity to make health care decisions on their own, would have to make two oral requests and one written request in order to obtain a prescription for the life-ending medication.

“New Jersey’s medical aid-in-dying law has eased the suffering of numerous terminally ill New Jerseyans over the last four years,” said Dr. Paul Bryman, the medical director at a hospice in Camden County and a plaintiff in the suit. “The residency mandate prevents me from providing nonresident patients who request this gentle dying option with care consistent with their values and wishes at one of the most important moments in their lives.”