By Chris Haring

When states fail to permit aid in dying, it can leave terminally ill patients with limited and insufficient end-of-life options, often forcing them to relocate.

When a legislative session concludes without enacting a Death with Dignity law, it can feel like a door closing on a compassionate and peaceful end-of-life option for many patients. In the aftermath of New York’s recent failure to pass the Medical Aid in Dying Act (A995/S2445), patients and advocates are left grappling with frustration and disappointment that for too many of them, waiting until the next legislative cycle would be. 

Brian Moffett’s struggle highlights the need for aid-in-dying legislation

Brian Moffett, a Staten Islander diagnosed with ALS (commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), is one of many terminally ill individuals who suffered when lawmakers did not advance the bill. His story, as well as several others from those affected, highlight the critical need for assisted dying laws across the country.

Moffett, who says his disease’s progression is drastically impacting his health, told SILive.com’s Lauren Lovallo: “I’m hurt by [the law] not passing. I really needed it to pass.” The continued inaccessibility of physician-assisted death means he is considering relocating to another state to access this end-of-life option. “New York is forcing me to leave,” Moffett added.

His plight underscores the urgent need for legislation that allows terminally ill patients the choice to end their suffering with dignity. Lawmakers’ inaction leaves individuals like Moffett facing the harrowing decision of whether to uproot their (and their families) lives to use the law elsewhere – which, it bears noting, can be prohibitive for many without the financial or other means to comfortably embark.

Parallel stories from right-to-die advocates underscore the lengths to which some will go

Shared in her own words before her death in Spring 2023, Ann Keller’s journey from Texas to Oregon to utilize our model Death with Dignity Act highlights the challenges faced by those living in states without such laws, even for those with a robust network of familial support. Diagnosed with Stage IV peritoneal carcinomatosis, Keller became one of Oregon’s first out-of-state residents to make the trek in search of a peaceful and dignified death.

Similarly, Lynda Bluestein, an advocate from Connecticut, made a similar unjust trek to nearby Vermont to take advantage of the availability of medical aid in dying for out-of-state residents – an amendment to the state’s decade-old law that passed last May. Bluestein’s determination led to the landmark case that ultimately expanded Vermont’s aid-in-dying laws to out-of-state residents: a lasting legacy that will benefit countless others in situations similar to hers.

Voices of the affected reveal the consequences of denying medical aid-in-dying

The frustration and grief of those denied access to medical aid in dying are palpable. As recounted in the previously-mentioned SILive.com story, Amy and Daren Eilert, who lost their daughter Ayla to cancer, expressed their dismay at the New York legislature’s inaction. 

Ayla suffered through a fierce case of oral cancer, which led to an excruciating death during which she often expressed the desire to end her suffering. Her mother, Amy, asked: “When will enough people have died screaming from the pain of disease?”

Patients with terminal illnesses deserve dignified end-of-life options no matter where they live

These stories are all too familiar, often echoed by countless others in similar situations. When states fail to pass Death with Dignity laws, terminally ill patients are left with limited options, frequently forced to endure unbearable suffering or relocate to states where these laws exist.

These individuals and their families face not only physical and emotional suffering but also the added burden of navigating legal and logistical barriers to access compassionate end-of-life options. As advocates continue to push for legislative change, it remains crucial for states to recognize and respond to the needs of their residents.

For those considering traveling to Oregon or Vermont to access medical aid in dying, please visit our page for more information and resources.