HomeScienceSupporters of Aid in Dying Sue N.J. Over Residency Requirement

Supporters of Aid in Dying Sue N.J. Over Residency Requirement

Judy Govatos has heard the phrase “you’re in remission” twice, once in 2015 and again in 2019. She overcame Stage 4 lymphoma through aggressive chemotherapy and other treatments. Although she endured hardships, including hospitalizations, infections, and weight loss, she is grateful for the extra years of life she has been given. Ms. Govatos, a retired executive who now lives in Wilmington, Del., has been able to enjoy various activities such as taking lifelong learning courses, working in her garden, and traveling with friends. Spending time with her grandchildren brings her great joy.

However, Ms. Govatos is aware that her cancer could return, and she does not want to suffer through the pain and disability of further treatment attempts. She wants quality of life, even if it means less time alive. She has expressed to her oncologist that she wants medical aid in dying when her time comes. This would involve a doctor prescribing a lethal dose of medication that she would take on her own.

Unfortunately, aid in dying is currently illegal in Delaware. Although it is legal in neighboring New Jersey, the law restricts the option to terminally ill residents of the state. Ms. Govatos is one of four plaintiffs, including two patients and two doctors, who are taking New Jersey officials to federal court to challenge the residency requirement. They argue that it violates the Constitution’s privileges and immunities clause and equal protection clause. The lawsuit also claims that forbidding New Jersey doctors from providing aid in dying to out-of-state patients restricts interstate commerce.

Compassion & Choices, the advocacy group involved in the lawsuit, has pursued similar cases in Oregon and Vermont. Both states settled and revised their statutes to eliminate residency requirements. The plaintiffs hope for a similar resolution in New Jersey.

Removing residency requirements in New Jersey could have a significant impact due to the state’s population density and accessibility. It would make medical aid in dying available to a larger number of people, more quickly than through legislation alone.

Ms. Govatos emphasizes that being able to legally end her life when she decides to is a matter of mercy and kindness. She wants to avoid experiencing unbearable pain and fear. The process would still involve meeting various requirements, such as verbal and written requests, consultations with doctors, and waiting periods. While it may not be as simple as picking up medication and going home, eliminating residency requirements would streamline the process for patients who are unable to establish residency.

Despite concerns about potential “death tourism,” where out-of-state patients travel to access aid in dying, past experiences in Oregon and New Jersey suggest that it is not a significant issue. Few patients actually use the prescribed lethal drugs, and fears of an influx of out-of-state patients have not materialized.

If New Jersey does not allow out-of-state patients to participate in aid in dying, Ms. Govatos may consider traveling to Vermont if her cancer returns. She envisions a farewell gathering with loved ones, filled with poetry, music, good food, and wine. However, she hopes it won’t come to that, as crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge to New Jersey would be much simpler and more convenient for her.