In a precedent-setting move, Vermont has become the first state in the U.S. to amend its assisted suicide law, extending its provisions to terminally ill nonresidents. Signed into law by Republican Governor Phil Scott on May 2, 2023, the legislation removes the decades-old residency requirement, demonstrating a significant shift in the nation’s approach to end-of-life care.
This development comes on the heels of a landmark court settlement in Oregon last year, where the state agreed to halt enforcement of its own residency requirement for terminally ill people seeking lethal medication. Additionally, Oregon agreed to propose legislative changes to permanently remove this requirement from its law, though the proposed bill remains pending at this time.
Earlier this year, Vermont reached a similar settlement with a terminally ill Connecticut woman who had sued the state over its residency requirement. She was granted the right to use Vermont’s law to end her life, provided she met the other requirements set by the legislation.
Vermont’s actions mark a significant shift in the landscape of end-of-life care in the United States, prompting discussions about the role of state borders in determining access to medical aid in dying. With this change, Vermont joins a small but growing number of states that have reconsidered the limitations on their assisted suicide laws. The development may encourage other jurisdictions to reevaluate their own laws and their stance on medical aid in dying.
In contrast to Vermont, many states, including Maryland and Virginia, do not currently have laws permitting physician-assisted suicide. Both states do, however, have laws that allow patients to refuse or discontinue life-sustaining treatment under certain circumstances through the execution of an advance medical directive. In Washington D.C., the Death with Dignity Act of 2016 permits physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients who meet specific criteria. Critics argue that the law has not been properly implemented and remains largely unavailable to patients who would otherwise qualify.
Understanding the legal intricacies of end-of-life decisions can be complicated and emotionally challenging. The experienced attorneys in our Trusts and Estates practice are committed to providing compassionate and comprehensive legal assistance to help you ensure your wishes are clearly outlined and respected.