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 is unable to assist his Washington patients if they request 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 alleges that the residency requirement contained in the Oregon Death with Dignity Act is unconstitutional. This lawsuit is 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 has 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 alleges 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.
While we have yet to receive a legal response from the Defendants in the matter, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum issued the following public statement: “The law has served Oregonians well in its 24 years of existence. It is compassionate and careful in its requirements…We will review this lawsuit, as we always do, before commenting officially on its merits. But, I certainly will go on record as a supporter of making it possible for those who live in Oregon to be able to avail themselves of the law.”
Compassion & Choices remains vigilant in protecting the practice of medical aid in dying in Oregon and ensuring that individuals have the full-spectrum of options at the end of life.