Advocates Praise Vermont Legislature and Governor for Removing Residency Requirement From State’s Medical Aid-in-Dying Law
May 2, 2023
Vermont’s Action Will Help Terminally Ill Adults in Other States Access Peaceful Dying Option
Advocates for improving end-of-life care options for terminally ill adults praised the Vermont Legislature and Gov. Phil Scott (R-Vt.) for becoming the first state to remove the residency requirement from its medical aid-in-dying law.
The signing of the bill, H.190, into law means that people who reside in other states can seek medical aid in dying in Vermont.
The governor’s signature comes on the heels of strong tri-partisan support for H.190 in the Legislature.
“We would like to express our profound thanks to sponsors of the bill, legislative committee chairs and members, and to the vast majority of our legislators who supported this important change,” said Betsy Walkerman, president of Patient Choices Vermont. “They recognized the essential and very personal right of people to seek medical care of their choosing,” she added.
Patient Choices Vermont (PCV) is a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about end-of-life options. PCV has posted guidelines and a checklist for nonresidents, along with guidelines for doctors (https://www.patientchoices.org/non-residents.html). PCV is strongly recommending that patients, medical providers and families ensure that all steps in the medical aid-in-dying process take place physically in Vermont in order for the legal protections of Act 39 to apply. People who want to consider medical aid in dying are encouraged to read the PCV materials and discuss all their options with their families and their existing medical teams before asking for a referral to a Vermont physician.
“We are grateful to Vermont lawmakers for recognizing that a state border shouldn’t determine whether you die peacefully or in agony,” said Kim Callinan, president/CEO of Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit advocacy organization that runs state campaigns to pass medical aid-in-dying laws across the nation, including in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. “Patients routinely travel to other states to utilize the best healthcare options. There is no rational reason they shouldn’t be able to travel to another state to access medical aid in dying if the state they live in doesn’t offer it.”
The passage of H.190 marks the resolution of all outstanding legal issues not addressed in the settlement reached with Vermont officials in March of a federal lawsuit asserting that the residency requirement in Vermont’s medical aid-in-dying law violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment. Compassion & Choices represented the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. The settlement stipulated that Vermont officials would not enforce the residency requirement for the patient plaintiff in the suit, Lynda Bluestein, a Bridgeport, Connecticut, resident with stage IIIc fallopian tube cancer, and that she may use Vermont’s medical aid-in-dying law. The settlement also stipulated that “the Vermont Department of Health will support repealing the residency requirement contained in the Act if a bill to repeal the residency requirement is proposed.”
The physician plaintiff in the lawsuit was Dr. Diana Barnard. Her practice specializes in hospice and palliative care in Middlebury, Vermont, where she treats patients in neighboring northern New York state. New York doesn’t have a medical aid-in-dying law.
“I thank Vermont lawmakers for repealing the residency requirement for medical aid in dying for the sake of all of my out-of-state patients,” said Dr. Barnard, a board member of Patient Choices Vermont. “I know they will be greatly relieved to have access to this end-of-life care option, whether they decide to use it or not.”
Compassion & Choices' Vermont lawsuit is the second in the nation to successfully challenge the residency requirement of a state’s medical aid-in-dying law. Last May, Compassion & Choices also settled a federal lawsuit with Oregon challenging the residency requirement of its medical aid-in-dying law. The settlement also required Oregon officials to initiate a legislative request to permanently remove the residency language from the law. In March, the Oregon House passed legislation to remove the residency mandate, HB 2279. The bill is awaiting Senate action.
Besides Vermont and Oregon, every other jurisdiction nationwide that has authorized medical aid in dying via legislation continues to require residency: California, Colorado, Hawai'i, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Washington and Washington, D.C.