At a Glance:
In Gideonse v. Brown, et al., Compassion & Choices filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Oregon on behalf of physician Dr. Nick Gideonse, a family practice and palliative care doctor and associate professor of family medicine at OHSU. Dr. Gideonse treats patients from both Oregon and Washington. While Washington also has a medical aid-in-dying law, the Oregon residency requirement forced Dr. Gideonse to disrupt the continuum of care for his non-resident patients who want this option. At the time of filing, Dr. Gideonse had to refer such patients to another provider in Washington who would agree to support the patient’s wishes for medical aid in dying. The suit challenged the constitutionality of the residency requirement in the Oregon medical aid-in-dying law because it unlawfully prevents out-of-state patients, such as those from Dr. Gideonse’s practice, from seeking medical aid in dying.
On October 28, 2021, Compassion & Choices filed a lawsuit on behalf of Nicholas Gideonse, an Oregon physician who regularly attends to patients from neighboring Vancouver, Washington. Dr. Gideonse was unable to assist his Washington patients if they requested medical aid in dying, due solely to a provision of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, that restricts the option to Oregon residents. The lawsuit alleged that the residency requirement contained in the Oregon Death with Dignity Act is unconstitutional. This lawsuit was the first in the nation to challenge the residency requirement of a medical aid-in-dying law.
In the course of his practice, Dr. Gideonse regularly treats patients who reside in Washington. It is particularly difficult to access medical aid in dying in Clark County, Washington, where a number of his patients live, because 61 percent of the county’s hospital beds are in healthcare facilities with religious restrictions that bar physicians from prescribing such medication.
In the past, Dr. Gideonse had received requests from Washington residents seeking assistance with qualifying for and obtaining a prescription for medication under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. Despite the likelihood that these individuals were otherwise eligible for medical aid in dying, he was unable to consider these requests solely on the basis of residency.
The lawsuit alleged that The Oregon Death with Dignity Act’s residency requirement violates:
- The U.S. Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause that “prevents a state from restricting non-resident visitors access to medical care within its borders absent a substantial state interest and restrictions narrowly tailored to those interests … The differential treatment between resident and non-resident patients established by the Act is not necessary to achieve any substantial state interest.”
- The U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause that prohibits state laws that discriminate against interstate commerce by preventing Dr. Gideonse from providing specific medical services to existing patients crossing state lines from Washington to Oregon.
On March 28, 2022, Dr. Gideonse and the State of Oregon defendants reached a settlement in the case. As a result of this settlement, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Oregon Medical Board, and the Multnomah County District Attorney have all agreed not to enforce the residency restriction. Further, the OHA also agreed to initiate a legislative request to permanently remove the residency restriction from the law.
Cooperating attorneys at Bradley Bernstein Sands LLP and Angeli Law Group LLC were invaluable co-counsel in this case.