A Connecticut woman who pushed for expanded access to Vermont’s law that allows people who are terminally ill to receive lethal medication to end their lives died in Vermont on Thursday, an event her husband called “comfortable and peaceful,” just like she wanted.
Lynda Bluestein, who had terminal cancer, ended her life by taking prescribed medication.
Her last words were ‘I’m so happy I don’t have to do this (suffer) anymore,'” her husband Paul wrote in an email on Thursday to the group Compassion & Choices, which was shared with The Associated Press.
The organization filed a lawsuit against Vermont in 2022 on behalf of Bluestein, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Diana Barnard, a physician from Middlebury. The suit claimed Vermont’s residency requirement in its so-called patient choice and control at end of life law violated the U.S. Constitution’s commerce, equal protection, and privileges and immunities clauses.
The state agreed to a settlement last March that allowed Bluestein, who is not a Vermont resident, to use the law to die in Vermont. And two months later, Vermont made such accommodations available to anyone in similar circumstances, becoming the first state in the country to change its law to allow terminally ill people from out of state to take advantage of it to end their lives.
“Lynda was an advocate all the way through, and she wanted access to this law and she had it, but she and everybody deserves to have access much closer to home because the need to travel and to make arrangements around the scheduling to come to Vermont is not something that we wish for people to have, ” Barnard said.
Barnard said it’s a sad day because her life came to an end, “But more than a silver lining is the beauty and the peace that came from Lynda having a say in what happened at the very end of her life.”
Ten states allow medically assisted suicide but before Vermont changed its law only one state — Oregon — allowed non-residents to do it, by not enforcing the residency requirement as part of a court settlement. Oregon went on to remove that requirement this past summer.
Vermont’s law, in effect since 2013, allows physicians to prescribe lethal medication to people with an incurable illness that is expected to kill them within six months.
Supporters say the law has stringent safeguards, including a requirement that those who seek to use it be capable of making and communicating their health care decision to a physician. Patients are required to make two requests orally to the physician over a certain timeframe and then submit a written request, signed in the presence of two or more witnesses who aren’t interested parties. The witnesses must sign and affirm that patients appeared to understand the nature of the document and were free from duress or undue influence at the time.
Others express moral opposition to assisted suicide and say there are no safeguards to protect vulnerable patients from coercion.
Bluestein, a lifelong activist, who advocated for similar legislation to be passed in Connecticut and New York, which has not happened, wanted to make sure she didn’t die like her mother, in a hospital bed after a prolonged illness. She told The Associated Press last year that she wanted to pass away surrounded by her husband, children, grandchildren, wonderful neighbors, friends and dog.
“I wanted to have a death that was meaningful, but that it didn’t take forever … for me to die,” she said.
“I want to live the way I always have, and I want my death to be in keeping with the way I wanted my life to be always,” Bluestein said. “I wanted to have agency over when cancer had taken so much for me that I could no longer bear it. That’s my choice.”
Rathke reported from Marshfield, Vt.