Terminally ill patients no longer need to be residents of Oregon to receive lethal medication for assisted suicide after a lawsuit challenged the requirement as unconstitutional.
On Monday, due to a settlement filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Medical Board agreed to stop enforcing the residency rule. The two groups have asked the Legislature to remove it from the law.
Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group for assisted suicide, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Nicholas Gideonse, a family physician and associate professor of family medicine at Oregon Health and Science University.
Gideonse had been unable to prescribe the lethal medication to many terminally ill patients in his practice who have residency just miles away in Washington State. The family physician has been a long-time advocate and practitioner of the state’s assisted suicide practices.
In the lawsuit, Compassion & Choices argued the residency requirement overstepped the Privileges and Immunities Clause, which forbids states from discriminating against citizens of other states in favor of their citizens. The suit also stated that the residency requirement overstepped the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. This clause gives Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce.
Kevin Diaz, an attorney with Compassion & Choices who filed the suit, said, “This requirement was both discriminatory and profoundly unfair to dying patients at the most critical time of their life.”
However, Diaz disagreed with Echevarria’s concerns. Safeguards in Oregon’s law include the requirement that physicians determine whether patients are mentally capable; that it is challenging for terminally ill people to make extended trips to another state; and that many people desire to die in the presence of loved ones near home.
Oregon was the first state to pass a law allowing for assisted suicide in 1997. The law allows terminally ill people who have been diagnosed with less than six months to live to end their lives by taking lethal medications prescribed by a physician.
According to data published last month by the Oregon Health Authority, some 2,159 people have died after ingesting terminal drugs under the law since it took effect.