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

Judy Govatos has heard that magical phrase “you’re in remission” twice, in 2015 and again in 2019. She had beaten back Stage 4 lymphoma with such aggressive chemotherapy and other treatments that at one point she grew too weak to stand, and relied on a wheelchair. She endured several hospitalizations, suffered infections and lost nearly 20 pounds. But she prevailed.

Ms. Govatos, 79, a retired executive at nonprofit organizations who lives in Wilmington, Del., has been grateful for the extra years. “I feel incredibly fortunate,” she said. She has been able to take and teach lifelong learning courses, to work in her garden, to visit London and Cape Cod with friends. She spends time with her two grandchildren, “an elixir.”

But she knows that the cancer may well return, and she doesn’t want to endure the pain and disability of further attempts to vanquish it.

“I’m not looking to be treated to death. I want quality of life,” she told her oncologist. “If that means less time alive, that’s OK.” When her months dwindle, she wants medical aid in dying. After a series of requests and consultations, a doctor would prescribe a lethal dose of a medication that she would take on her own.

Finding a doctor willing to prescribe can take time, as does using one of the state’s few compounding pharmacies, which combine the necessary drugs and fill the prescription.

Although no official would check to see whether patients travel home with the medication, both Mr. Bassett and Mr. Pope advise that the lethal dose ought to be taken in New Jersey, to avoid the possibility of family members facing prosecution in their home states for assisting in a suicide.

Still, preventing dying patients from having to sign leases and obtain government IDs in order to become residents will streamline the process. “Not everyone has the will, the financial means, the physical means” to establish residency, said Dr. Paul Bryman, one of the doctor plaintiffs and hospice medical director in southern New Jersey. “These are often very disabled people.”

Bills recently introduced in Minnesota and New York don’t include residency requirements at all, Mr. Pope noted, since they seem likely to be challenged in court.

“I think the writing’s on the wall,” he said. “I think all the residency requirements will go, in all the states” where aid in dying is legal. There are 10, plus the District of Columbia (though the legality in Montana depends on a court decision, not legislation).

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