On Thursday August 25, two women have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s nearly decade-old death with dignity law. Backed by a national advocacy group, they state that Vermont violates the US constitution by making residency one of the requirements to access euthanasia.
Of the 11 jurisdictions nationwide that have legalized medical aid-in-dying, 10 require the patient to be a resident there. That includes Vermont. According to the plaintiffs, limiting the medical aid-in-dying option to Vermont residents violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment.
Dr. Diana Barnard is one of two plaintiffs. She asserts the law is preventing her from providing end-of-life drugs to out-of-staters. Barnard is a palliative and hospice care specialist in Middlebury at Helen Porter Rehabilitation and Nursing and UVM Health Network-Porter Medical Center, and her practice treats both Vermonters and North Country, New York residents. For 13 years, she has helped terminally ill patients navigate suffering in life and decency in death.
Lynda Bluestein, a 70 year old Connecticut woman with terminal cancer and a former public health worker and advocate, told that although she doesn’t yet meet the city’s second requirement —having fewer than six months of life expectancy — she is determined not to lose control over her end-of-life care after she was diagnosed with her fourth, and this time terminal, bout of fallopian tube cancer.
Vermont in 2013 was the first state in the country to enact medical aid-in-dying legislation. It’s called the Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act, or Act 39. But physicians are only permitted to prescribe terminally ill patients with life-ending medication if they’re residents of Vermont. Most who exercise this right have cancer.
According to the Vermont Health Department, 34 Vermont patients were prescribed life-ending medicine between 2017 and 2019 and 28 of them used it to end their life. In the most recent report submitted to the legislature, the health department cited 29 prescriptions between 2019 and 2021, and 21 people filled them. Since Act 39′s inception through June 2021, a total of 116 people received prescriptions.