In Bluestein v. Scott, et al., Compassion & Choices, WilmerHale and Tarrant, Gillies & Shems filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Vermont on behalf of Lynda Bluestein, a terminally-ill Connecticut resident, and Vermont physician Diana Barnard, who specializes in hospice and palliative care and associate professor of family medicine at University of Vermont. The suit challenges the constitutionality of the residency requirement in the current Vermont medical aid-in-dying law because it unlawfully prevents Ms. Bluestein and Dr. Barnards’ non-Vermonter patients from seeking medical aid in dying.
Ms. Bluestein is a Connecticut resident diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. Medical aid in dying is not authorized in her home state and she would like to be afforded the option of accessing medical aid in dying in Vermont, should her suffering become unbearable.
Dr. Barnard treats patients from both Vermont and in northern New York in her regular practice. However, the residency requirement contained in the Vermont law prevents Dr. Barnard from supporting her New York patients’ requests for medical aid in dying.
On August 25, 2022, Compassion & Choices filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lynda Bluestein, a terminally-ill Connecticut resident, and Diana Barnard, a Vermont physician specializing in hospice and palliative care and associate professor of family medicine at University of Vermont. Both Ms. Bluestein and Dr. Barnard’s non-Vermonter patients are unable to access medical aid in dying in Vermont, due solely to a provision of The Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act (the Act) that restricts the option to Vermont residents.
The lawsuit alleges that the residency requirement contained in the Act is unconstitutional. Filed on the heels of the State of Oregon agreeing to suspend enforcement of its residency requirement as a result of the settlement reached in the Gideonse v. Brown suit, this lawsuit is the most recent challenge to a residency restriction contained in a medical aid-in-dying law.
Ms. Bluestein is a retired public health professional residing in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It is important to Ms. Bluestein that she maintain control of her medical decisions during the entire course of her treatment, which includes decisions surrounding her death. When Ms. Bluestein decides that her suffering has become unbearable, she wishes to have the option to use medical aid in dying to secure a peaceful death, an option not available to her in her home state of Connecticut.
Dr. Barnard primarily practices in Middlebury, Vermont, which is approximately 20 miles from the New York border. Many northern New York residents have their primary healthcare needs met through the University of Vermont Medical Center, the largest healthcare system in the region. As a result, Dr. Barnard routinely treats patients who reside in New York State. When Dr. Barnard’s New York patients request medical aid in dying, she is required to deny these patients appropriate medical care solely due to their residency status.
The lawsuit asserts that The Act’s residency requirement violates:
- The U.S. Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause which prohibits differential treatment of in-state and out-of-state residents that infringes on the fundamental right to travel.
- The U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause which prohibits state laws that discriminate against interstate commerce, such as the provision of medical services; and
- The U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by failing to accord residents and non-residents equal protection under federal law.