A rule in Oregon that allowed only the state’s residents to receive an assisted suicide has been lifted after courts deemed it unconstitutional.
In a settlement filed in U.S. District Court in Portland on Monday, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Medical Board agreed to stop enforcing the residency requirement.
Eight other states and the Washington D.C. have similar requirements for assisted suicide, and advocates for lifting these laws hope the Oregon decision will set a precedent to have those removed as well.
Opponents of assisted suicide fear that the lifting will turn the state into a site for ‘suicide tourism’.
A law that barred out-of-state Oregon residents from receiving an assisted suicide has been lifted by courts after it was deemed unconstitutional (file photo)
‘This requirement was both discriminatory and profoundly unfair to dying patients at the most critical time of their life,’ said Kevin Diaz, an attorney with Compassion & Choices, the national advocacy group that sued over Oregon’s requirement.
Oregon became the first state to enact legalized assisted suicide laws in 1997.
Some 2,159 people have died after ingesting terminal drugs under the law since it took effect, according to data published last month by the Oregon Health Authority.
Patients must make two verbal requests to their doctor for the medication, at least 15 days apart, as well as a written request signed in the presence of two witnesses.
Dr Nicholas Gideonse (pictured) who runs a family clinic in Portland says the restrictions hurts people in southern Washington who need access to assisted suicide but can not because of the cross-state rules
The attending physician and a consulting physician must confirm the patient’s diagnosis and prognosis, and determine whether the patient is capable of making health care decisions; if either doctor believes the patient to be suffering from depression or another mental disorder, they can refer the patient for a psychological exam.
Laura Echevarria, a spokeswoman for National Right to Life, which opposes such laws, warned that without a residency requirement, Oregon risked becoming the nation’s ‘assisted suicide tourism capital.’
‘There’s no tourism going on,’ Diaz replied.
Diaz said that was unlikely suicide tourism would occur given the safeguards in the law.
Compassion & Choices sued on behalf of Dr Nicholas Gideonse, a Portland family practice physician and associate professor of family medicine at Oregon Health and Science University.
A longtime supporter of medical aid-in-dying laws, Gideonse had been unable to write terminal prescriptions for patients who live just across the Columbia River in Washington state.
While Washington allows for assisted suicides as well, providers can be difficult to find in the southwestern part of the state, where many hospital beds are in religiously affiliated health care facilities that prohibit it.
Advocates for the court’s decision hope that other states with similar laws will now have to remove these requirements as well, opening assisted suicides to more Americans. Critics say that the decision opens the state to ‘suicide tourism’ (file photo)
Requiring his patients to find other doctors to provide assistance in ending their own lives can compound their suffering, Gideonse said.
‘Any restriction on medical aid in dying that doesn’t serve a specific medical purpose is difficult,’ Gideonse told the AP.
‘In no other way is my practice restricted to Oregon residents, whether that´s delivering babies in the past or other care that I provide.’
The lawsuit argued that the residency requirement violated the U.S. Constitution´s Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce, and the Privileges and Immunities Clause, which forbids states from discriminating against citizens from other states in favor of its own citizens.
The Oregon Health Authority and the medical board declined to comment on why they settled the case.
The state attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to an interview request.
Oregon is one of nine states, and the District of Columbia, that allow for assisted suicide, and is the first to lift its state residency requirement
National Right to Life, which most prominently takes part in anti-abortion advocacy, is concerned that people might be able to travel to Oregon without having much of a relationship with a doctor in the state, thus chipping away at guardrails limiting the use of the law, Echevarria said.
‘The hope is that doctors will continue to evaluate patients, but it certainly creates a situation where there could be more abuse of that law,’ she said.
California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington state and Washington, D.C., have approved similar laws, all with residency requirements. Montana’s Supreme Court has ruled that state law does not prohibit medical aid in dying.
ProCon reports that 4,249 prescriptions for assisted death have been written in the U.S. from 1998 to 2017.
Two-thirds of patients who went through with the process used drugs to end their lives.
Cancer patients were most likely to choose that path, accounting for 63 percent of prescriptions.
Recipients of assisted suicide were also overwhelmingly white, making up a whopping 94 percent of the group over the 20 year period.