A Connecticut woman is suing the state of Vermont because its current laws prevent her from qualifying for assisted suicide in the state.
Lynda Bluestein of Bridgeport, Connecticut, contends that Vermont’s residency requirements for assisted suicide violate the Equal Protection, Commerce, and Privileges and Immunities clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Bluestein is joined in her suit by Vermont physician Dr. Diana Barnard. The duo is represented by Compassion and Choices, an advocacy organization that “expands options and empowers everyone to chart their end-of-life journey.”
Those in favor of the lawsuit argue that assisted suicide is the only “medical” procedure that is limited by state boundaries. “We believe that the residency requirements in all medical-aid-in-dying laws, as currently constructed, are unconstitutional,” Amitai Heller, senior staff attorney for Compassion & Choices told VT Digger.
In March, Compassion and Choices challenged a similar law in Oregon, which resulted in the state suspending its residency requirement. Vermont law currently permits assisted suicide for state residents with a terminal illness who are expected to die in fewer than six months. Bluestein told the Associated Press that she has terminal fallopian tube cancer. While doctors haven’t yet given her fewer than six months to live, she wants the ability to die when that does happen. Right now, she says that moving to Vermont would be too difficult.
“I love my life; I don’t want to die,” Bluestein said in an interview with Vermont Public Radio. “But I don’t want to suffer at the end of my life. I’d like to choose how my final days are going to look.”
Mary Beerworth of Vermont Right to Life told the Associated Press that she is worried that Vermont will become a destination for those seeking suicide should the lawsuit succeed.
The concept of “death tourism” — which allows non-residents to travel to a state for the sole purpose of committing suicide — sets a dangerous precedent, in part because it dilutes the doctor-patient relationship that is so crucial to ensuring that ill patients get the care they need. When a sick person travels to a state with the sole intention of seeking suicide, they are more likely to find a doctor who will give them what they want. In contrast, a doctor who has a long-standing relationship with a patient is better able to offer palliative care when it’s needed.
Laura Echevarria, a spokeswoman for National Right to Life, spoke of this following Oregon’s decision to drop its residency requirement. “The hope is that doctors will continue to evaluate patients, but it certainly creates a situation where there could be more abuse of that law,” she told NBC News.
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