A Game Changer out of Oregon

Oregon will waive residency requirements

In a significant development with potentially national implications, the State of Oregon has agreed to waive its residency requirements for patients seeking MAID.  All other eligibility requirements under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act remain in place.https://www.npr.org/2022/03/30/1089647368/oregon-physician-assisted-death-state-residents

The decision arose from a lawsuit filed by an Oregon doctor, Nicholas Gideonse, practicing near the adjacent Washington State border.  Many of his patients resided in Washington but made the short trip to be seen by Dr Gideonse.  However, patients seeking MAID were disqualified because they were not Oregon residents.  This worked a hardship because over 60% of the medical providers in southern Washington practiced under the auspice of Catholic-owned facilites and were thus unable to offer MAID prescriptions.

With the assistance of Compassion & Choices Attorney Kevin Diaz and several volunteering private attorneys, Dr Gideonse filed a lawsuit in October 2021, in Federal court claiming an unconstitutional violation of the Privilege & Immunities Clause and the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution against the Oregon Medical Board and the State Government.

The defendants were persuaded by Dr GIdeonse’s arguments and have agreed therefore to waive the residency requirement going forward.  They have instructed the legislature to amend the law to strike out the requirement.

The case could potentially shift the grounds nationally in the 9 other US jurisdictions with residency requirements embedded in the statute on MAID.  (Montana does not have a statute on point).  The arguments that the residency requirement puts some citizens at a comparative disadvantage apply equally in every state.  After all, medical doctors routinely treat patients from out of state for every type of medical condition. There is likely no compelling reason why MAID should be the sole medical procedure requiring residency.  If this then becomes the pattern, it would provide enormous comfort potentially to millions of Americans living in the 39 states and multiple territories where MAID is not locally available.  A patient at End of Life could simply travel to the nearest state with MAID and go about fulfilling the other requirements: multiple interviews, being an adult of sound mind, able to self-administer.   This would indeed be a game-changer.

However, it is worth noting that the Oregon decision arose from a settlement between the litigants.  A Federal judge did not opine on the constitutional arguments, whether in fact the Privilege and Immunities or Commerce Clauses are violated by a residency requirement.  Also, a state may always interpose as a defense to such an allegation that it has a compelling state interest.  In short, while the Gideonse decision is indeed a landmark, whether the other states will waive their residency requirement is unsure.

For the time being, however, it would appear that applicants for MAID from around the country can now travel to Oregon and assuming they meet all other requirements of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, and can find two doctors willing to treat them, will now be able to avail themselves of MAID without having first to establish residency in Oregon. In essence then, as a result of Dr Gideonse’s lawsuit, MAID is now available for residents of every state in the country. This alone is grounds for rejoicing.