The fight for medically assisted suicide across state lines

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Lynda Bluestein has terminal cancer and knows she will likely die soon, but until Tuesday, she didn’t know if she could choose how or when, and if her family, friends and dog would be with her when she came. time.

The 75-year-old from Bridgeport, Connecticut, reached an agreement with the state of Vermont that will allow her to be the first non-resident to take advantage of its decade-old law that allows people who are sick to end theirs. lives, provided it complies with other aspects of the law.

“I was so relieved to hear about the settlement that will allow me to decide when my cancer has taken what I can handle,” said Bluestein, 75, who has fallopian tube cancer. “The importance of peace of mind knowing that I will now face fewer barriers to accessing autonomy, control and choice in this private, sacred and very personal end-of-life decision is enormous.”

Vermont is one of 10 states that allow medically assisted suicide, but only one, Oregon, allows non-residents to do so. Bluestein’s settlement and pending legislation that would repeal Vermont’s residency requirement offer a glimmer of hope for other terminally ill patients who want to control how and when they die but may not be able to cross the country to do so. they do.

Bluestein and Diana Barnard, a doctor from Middlebury, sued Vermont last summer, arguing that its residency requirement violates the Constitution’s Commerce, Equal Protection and Privileges and Immunities clauses.

Barnard, who specializes in hospice and palliative care and has patients from neighboring New York state, which, like Connecticut, does not allow medically assisted suicide, praised the settlement and called on the Vermont Legislature to repeal the requirement accommodation.

“I am grateful that Linda will now be able to access medical help when she dies without completely upending her final months. … There is no good reason for nonresidents not to be able to use Vermont’s medical assistance in dying law, which has eased the suffering of many terminally ill Vermonters since it took effect last year. over a decade,” Barnard said in an issued press release. by Compassion & Choices, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Bluestein and Barnard and describes itself as a group that “expands choices and empowers everyone to chart their end-of-life journey.”

Blustein, who had three different cancer diagnoses in a short period of time, said she knew she had to do something so her death wouldn’t be like her mother’s, who died in a hospital bed after a long illness. She decided she wanted to die surrounded by her husband, children, grandchildren, wonderful neighbors, friends and dog.

“I wanted to have a death that was meaningful, but it didn’t take forever … to die,” she said.

The Vermont law, which has been in effect since 2013, allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to state residents with a terminal illness expected to kill them within six months. If the Democratic-led state Senate passes the current legislation and is signed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who supports the idea, Vermont would become the second state to allow terminally ill nonresidents to end their care. their life.

A year ago, Oregon agreed to stop enforcing its residency requirement and ask the Legislature to remove it from the law as part of a settlement. The legislation is also being considered there.

Although supporters of Vermont’s legislation are optimistic it will pass, medically assisted suicide has its opponents. Among them is Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of the Vermont Right to Life Commission, who said the practice “has been and continues to be a matter of controversy.”

“To be clear, Vermont Right to Life opposed the underlying idea behind assisted suicide and opposes the move to remove the residency requirement as there are still no safeguards to protect vulnerable patients from coercion,” Beerworth testified before a legislative Vermont Commission. He said if the legislation moves forward, he has a number of concerns, including the liability Vermont could face if the drugs don’t end a patient’s life.

David Englander, senior political and legal counsel for the state Department of Health, said no complaints have been reported to the department or the attorney general’s office about the use of the Vermont law.

Supporters of Vermont’s medically assisted suicide law also say it has strict safeguards, including a requirement that those seeking to use it be able to make and communicate their health care decision to a doctor. Patients are required to make two requests orally to the physician for a specified period of time and then submit a written request signed in the presence of two or more witnesses who are not interested parties. Witnesses must sign and confirm that patients appeared to understand the nature of the document and were free from pressure or undue influence at the time.

Bluestein, a lifelong activist, has pushed for aid-in-dying legislation in New York and her home state of Connecticut, where the legislature is considering such a bill. He decided to consider Vermont as an option when a friend with cancer moved there to set up residence so he could take advantage of its aid-in-dying law. That friend died last year, surrounded by her husband, son and daughter, Bluestein said.

“One thing that surprised me about this latest terminal diagnosis is how hard it is to die the way you want to die,” Bluestein said. “It seems that everyone has an opinion on what should and should not be allowed in the personal, private and very sacred moment of my death.”

“There are people who say, no, you have to suffer. It is very important for you to wait until God decides it is time for you to die. But that is not my faith. That’s not what I want and I don’t believe that,” he said.

Bluestein, who previously battled breast cancer and melanoma, is undergoing chemotherapy for late-stage fallopian tube cancer. Over Thanksgiving, he told his children and grandchildren that he would probably die this year.

“I want to live as I always have and I want my death to be in line with the way I always wanted my life to be,” he said. “I wanted to have an agency when cancer had taken so much of me that I couldn’t take it anymore. This is my choice.”

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