Vermont settles aid


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Apr 06, 2023

Vermont settles aid

By Kristen Fountain Mar 15 2023March 15, 2023 A Connecticut woman who sued

By Kristen Fountain

Mar 15 2023March 15, 2023

A Connecticut woman who sued Vermont in August to allow her access to the state's aid-in-dying procedure will be able to pursue it without fear of prosecution, thanks to a settlement agreed to by all parties last week.

State law currently says that only Vermont residents can pursue the procedure, which involves prescription of a lethal drug cocktail following a multi-step consent process. Like laws in nine other states, it also requires the requesting patient to have a diagnosis of "an incurable and irreversible disease" expected to result in death within six months.

As a result of the settlement agreement with the Vermont Attorney General's office, which was filed in federal district court yesterday, Lynda Bluestein of Bridgeport, Connecticut, may receive aid-in-dying care from her Middlebury-based physician Diana Barnard, both of whom were parties in the lawsuit.

"I was so relieved to hear of the settlement of my case that will allow me to decide when cancer has taken all from me that I can bear," Bluestein said in a statement provided by the national group Compassion & Choices, which participated in the lawsuit. The 75-year-old was diagnosed with late-stage fallopian tube cancer in 2021.

This is the second successful lawsuit challenging a state's residency requirement supported by the group. Compassion & Choices lawyers settled a case brought by a patient and doctor against the state of Oregon's residency requirement last March.

The group's argument is that three clauses in the U.S. Constitution prohibit a state from limiting what medical care a person can receive based on where they live.

As written, the settlement applies only to Bluestein. It states that neither the Vermont attorney general nor the Addison County state's attorney will enforce the residency requirement against her going forward.

However, the settlement also commits the state Department of Health, a named defendant, to support the removal of the residency requirement through legislation currently being considered by lawmakers.

The Vermont House overwhelmingly approved removing the residency restriction from the aid-in-dying law last month. The Senate Committee on Health and Welfare is expected to move the bill, H.190, on to the full chamber in the coming weeks.

State law still requires that the procedure be carried out under the care of a Vermont physician, and that the prescription be filled in Vermont. Advocates recommend that patients take the drugs here or in a state with a similar law.

Barnard, whose patient base includes those living in nearby New York state, urged legislators to act quickly. While she said in the statement that she was grateful that Bluestein could now access care "without completely upending her final months," she said the law change was needed "for the sake of all my out-of-state patients."

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