Woman sues over residency requirement for assisted suicide
A Connecticut woman with cancer sued Vermont on Thursday for allowing only its own residents to take advantage of a state law that lets people who are terminally ill end their own lives.
Lynda Bluestein, 75, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who has terminal fallopian tube cancer, and Dr. Diana Barnard, of Middlebury, Vermont, argue in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Burlington that Vermont’s residency requirement violates the U.S. Constitution.
The Vermont law allows physicians to prescribe lethal medication to state residents with an incurable illness that is expected to kill them within six months.
Bluestein said in an interview Thursday that she is not yet at the point where her life expectancy is less than six months, but that it is her third bout with cancer and she watched her mother die of the disease.
“She said, “I never wanted you to see me like this.’ I don’t want my children to see me like that, either,” she said. “I’d like their last memories of me to be as strong as possible, to interact with them and not in an adult diaper curled up in a fetal position, drugged out of my mind.”
Barnard said in the lawsuit that she would like to be able to offer the end-of-life option to her patients who live in New York. The two women have been advocates on the issue in New York and Connecticut, which currently have no laws in place to allow for medically assisted suicide.
The lawsuit — filed by the group Compassion and Choices, which describes itself as an organization that “expands options and empowers everyone to chart their end-of-life journey” — argues that the residency requirement violates the commerce, equal protection, and privileges and immunities clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
Bluestein and Barnard are asking the court to block enforcement of the residency provision.
Compassion and Choices says the Vermont lawsuit is the nation’s second to challenge residency requirements for such laws. Ten of the 11 jurisdictions nationwide that have authorized medical assistance to help people end their lives have a residency requirement, the group said.
The organization in March settled a similar lawsuit in Oregon that resulted in the suspension of the residency requirement in that state.
The office of Vermont Gov. Phil Scott referred questions to the attorney general’s office, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mary Beerworth, of the Vermont Right to Life Committee, which opposes assisted suicide, said that if the challenge is successful Vermont could become a destination for terminally ill people seeking to end their lives.
Bluestein is a retired community public health professional who worked with women and children. She was diagnosed with cancer in March 2021. At the time she was given six months to three years to live and is undergoing treatment.
Bluestein said she met a woman with advanced lung cancer in a survivor group in Connecticut who moved to Vermont to take advantage of the state’s law.
“Every other day or so, she’s telling me, she said, ‘Don’t wait until the end,’” said Bluestein, who noted her friend established Vermont residency and died this year with the help of the law.
For Bluestein, moving to Vermont would be too complicated, she said.
Under Vermont’s Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life Act, passed in 2013, once a determination has been made that a patient has fewer than six months to live, the patient may ask their physician for a prescription for a medication that would hasten death. The process requires both oral and written requests, witnesses and the second opinion from another physician.
Physicians and pharmacists are not required to participate in the actual suicide.
In a January report, the Vermont Health Department said that between May 31, 2013, when the law took effect, and June 30, 2021, 116 people took advantage of the law. Of the total, 77% had cancer.