A federal lawsuit filed last month seeks to remove the residency requirement New Jersey law requires for terminally-ill patients to seek medically assisted suicide.

The lawsuit was filed by Compassion & Choices “on behalf of cancer patients in Delaware and Pennsylvania and two New Jersey doctors,” per the organization’s press release about the suit.

In 2019, the state passed the New Jersey Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which allowed New Jersey residents with terminal illness diagnoses who meet certain criteria to seek medically assisted death. The suit alleges that the nonresident cancer patients “are discriminated against by the State of New Jersey, based solely on their lack of residency status.”

Perspective: The state of medically assisted death in the United States

“This discriminatory denial violates the United States Constitution,” the suit alleges. The group seeks “a declaration that the Act’s definition of ‘qualified terminally ill patient’ and residency requirement violate Equal Protection Clause of the United States.”

New Jersey isn’t the only state whose residency requirement has been challenged.

Oregon removed its residency requirement “after a lawsuit challenged the requirement as unconstitutional,” per The Associated Press. Compassion & Choices was behind this lawsuit as well.

In a settlement, the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Medical Board “agreed to stop enforcing the residency requirement and to ask the Legislature to remove it from the law,” according to The Associated Press.

Another state, Vermont, faced a similar situation.

Compassion & Choices filed a suit on behalf of a Connecticut resident and a Vermont physician “claiming its residency requirement violates the Constitution’s commerce, equal protection, and privileges and immunities clause,” per The Associated Press. Vermont settled the case and changed its law to remove the residency requirement.

At the time, executive director of the Vermont Right to Life Committee Mary Hahn Beerworth said in front of a Vermont legislative committee, “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 that protect vulnerable patients from coercion.”

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U.S. states’ removal of residency requirements for medically assisted suicide comes as America’s northern neighbor Canada faces controversy for looking toward expanding medically assisted suicide to “mature minors.” The country is considering repealing part of Canadian law that prevented individuals with mental illness as the sole underlying reason for assisted suicide by 2024.

U.S. laws aren’t as permissive as Canada’s or some countries in Europe. California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Oregon and Washington have physician-assisted suicide policies and the states require a patient to have a terminal illness and a six-month prognosis.

Nevada was considering legalizing physician-assisted suicide this past legislative season, but the governor vetoed the bill.

In a testimony before Nevada politicians, Reno doctor Kirk Brolander said what he saw as a flaw with the bill, “A misdiagnosis coupled with poor prognostication results in a patient getting a lethal prescription when they could have years of good quality life left to live.”

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