Conn. female 1st non-Vermonter has been granted assisted suicide entitlement
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Lynda Bluestein has terminal cancer and knows she will likely die soon, but until Tuesday, she didn’t know if she would get to choose how and when and if her family, friends and dog would be with her when the time comes.
The 75-year-old from Bridgeport, Connecticut, reached a settlement with the state of Vermont that would allow her to become the first nonresident to benefit from a decade-old law that allows terminally ill people to end their own lives, provided that it complies with other aspects of the law.
“I was so relieved to hear that my case has been settled, allowing me to decide when cancer has taken everything I can bear from me,” says Bluestein, 75, who has fallopian tube cancer. “The importance of having peace of mind, knowing that I will now face fewer obstacles in accessing the autonomy, control and choice in this private, sacred and deeply personal end-of-life decision is immense.”
Vermont is one of 10 states that allow medical-assisted suicide, but only one, Oregon, allows non-residents to do it. Bluestein’s settlement and pending legislation that would remove Vermont’s residency requirement and offer a glimmer of hope to other terminally ill patients who want to control how and when they die but may not be able to travel across the country to do so.
Bluestein and Diana Barnard, a Middlebury physician, sued Vermont last summerwho alleges that his residency requirement violates the trade, equal protection, and privileges and immunities clauses of the Constitution.
Barnard, who specializes in hospices and palliative care and has patients from neighboring New York State, which, like Connecticut, does not allow medically assisted suicide, praised the settlement and called on the Vermont legislature to enact the residency requirement. Pull.
“I am grateful that Lynda now has access to medical help when dying without having her final months completely turned upside down. … There is no good reason nonresidents should not be able to take advantage of Vermont’s dying medical assistance law, which has eased the suffering of countless terminally ill Vermonters since it went into effect a decade ago,” Barnard said in a news report. release issued by Compassion & Choices, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Bluestein and Barnard, describing itself as a group that “expands options and empowers everyone to chart their end-of-life journey.”
Bluestein, who has had three different cancer diagnoses in a short period of time, said she knew she had to do something to prevent her death from being like that of her mother, who died in a hospital bed after a long illness. She decided she wanted to die surrounded by her husband, children, grandchildren, wonderful neighbors, friends and dog.
“I wanted a death that was meaningful, but didn’t last forever… before I died,” she said.
The Vermont law, in effect since 2013, allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to state residents with an incurable disease from which they are expected to die within six months. If the Democrat-led Senate passes the current legislation and it is signed by Republican Governor Phil Scott, who supports the draft, Vermont would become the second state to allow terminally ill nonresidents to end their own lives.
A year ago, Oregon agreed to stop enforcing its residency requirement and ask the legislature to remove it from the law as part of a settlement. Legislation is also being considered there.
While proponents of the Vermont legislation are optimistic that it will pass, medical-assisted suicide has its detractors. Among them is Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of the Vermont Right to Life Committee, who said the practice “was and remains a matter of debate.”
“To be clear, Vermont Right to Life opposed the underlying concept behind assisted suicide and opposes the move to remove the residency requirement as there are still no safeguards in place that protect vulnerable patients from coercion,” Beerworth testified to a Vermont Legislative Committee. She said as the legislation moves forward, she has a number of concerns, including what liability Vermont could incur if the drugs fail to end a patient’s life.
David Englander, senior policy adviser and legal counsel to the Department of Health, said no complaints have been reported to the Department or the Attorney General’s office about the use of the Vermont law.
Supporters of Vermont’s medical-assisted suicide law also say it has strict safeguards, including requiring those who want to use it to be able to make and communicate their medical decision to a physician. Patients must make a verbal request to the physician twice within a specified time and then submit a written request that they have signed in the presence of two or more non-interested witnesses. Witnesses must sign and confirm that patients appeared to understand the nature of the document and were free from coercion or undue influence at the time.
Bluestein, a lifelong activist, has pushed for assisted dying legislation to be passed in New York and her home state of Connecticut, where the legislature is considering such a law. She decided to look to Vermont as an option when a friend who had cancer moved there to establish residency so she could take advantage of the assisted dying law. That friend died last year surrounded by her husband, son and daughter, Bluestein said.
“One thing that surprised me when I got this latest terminal diagnosis is how hard it is to die the way you want to die,” Bluestein said. “It seems like everyone has an opinion on what is and isn’t allowed in my one personal, private, and very sacred moment of death.”
“There are people who say: no, you have to suffer. It is very important for you to wait until God decides it is time to die. But that’s not my belief. That’s not what I want and that’s not what I believe,” she said.
Bluestein, who previously battled breast cancer and melanoma, is undergoing chemotherapy for her late-stage fallopian tube cancer. During Thanksgiving, she told their children and grandchildren that she will probably die this year.
“I want to live the way I always have, and I want my death to be in line with the way I always wanted my life to be,” she said. “I wanted freedom of choice when cancer had taken so much from me that I could no longer bear it. That is my choice.”
Follow Lisa Rathke on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LisaRathke ___
Find more AP coverage of assisted suicide at https://apnews.com/hub/assisted-suicide