In order to give terminally ill persons from other states access to life-ending care, Vermont has become the first state to remove a residency barrier from its law on medically assisted death.
When Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill Tuesday eliminating the residency requirement, the law that has allowed doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients 18 or older for the past ten years was changed.
Following a legal battle against the state by a 75-year-old Bridgeport, Connecticut resident with late-stage fallopian tube cancer who claimed that Vermont’s restriction was unconstitutional, the measure was approved by the state’s Senate and House last month. As part of a March settlement, the state exempted Lynda Bluestein from the residence requirement.
Ms. Bluestein said over the phone on Tuesday, “I was always hoping that the Legislature would change the law and make it open to everyone.” I was quite happy.
The tweet below confirms the news:
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.https://t.co/7UiaqS5WbG
— The New York Times (@nytimes) May 3, 2023
Vermont Becomes First State to Remove Residency Requirement for Medically Assisted Deaths
While Oregon health authorities agreed in 2022 to stop enforcing its residency provision as part of a settlement in a related federal lawsuit, Vermont is the first state to formally remove the residency requirement from its medically assisted suicide law. Since then, the Oregon House has approved a bill that would repeal the mandate. The state passed the first law allowing for medical assistance in dying, and it went into force in 1997.
Others, including the District of Columbia, give terminally ill citizens access to life-ending therapies, but the majority forbid non-citizens from receiving their care.
On Tuesday, those working to advance end-of-life care expressed their hope that other states would follow Vermont in enabling citizens to travel between states to pass away with dignity.
According to Kimberly Callinan, CEO of Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group that advocates boosting access to end-of-life drugs, “support for this is widespread and bipartisan.” Almost everyone wants to have control over how they pass away.
However, opponents of laws allowing assisted suicide contend that the practice is still debatable. Mary Hahn Beerworth, a lobbyist for Vermont Right to Life, stated in testimony before a parliamentary committee earlier this year that “there continue to be legitimate and serious concerns.”
Since there are still no safeguards to protect vulnerable patients from coercion, Vermont Right to Life opposes the proposal to remove the residency requirement as well as the assisted suicide movement’s fundamental premise. She also raised several other issues, such as what may occur if the patient elected to return to their home state with the lethal dose of medication rather than utilize it. What happens to the body if the medicines are consumed and someone dies in Vermont, she continued?
Speaking on behalf of the group, Jennifer Popik said that the National Right to Life was “deeply disappointed that Vermont is now poised to become a tourist destination for assisted suicide.” She continued that the laws endangered “vulnerable groups.”
However, Cassandra Johnston, 38, a New Yorker with stage 3 breast cancer, claimed that Vermont’s law change on Tuesday had given her peace of mind because it meant that, in the event that she needed medical attention, she could go to the state. This ought to be the norm for medical treatment, not the exception, said Ms. Johnston.
When the time came for her to obtain life-ending drugs, Ms. Bluestein, whose legal battle predated Vermont’s law change on Tuesday, said she still intended to go there.
Having this option, according to Ms. Bluestein, would allow her to pass away in her loved ones’ presence and on her own terms. She continued, calling it “a tremendous relief.”
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