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Terminally Ill Patients from Out of State Suing New Jersey

New Jersey faces lawsuit over medical aid in dying requirements

(The Center Square) — Andrea Sealy was diagnosed with stage-four metastatic breast cancer more than six years ago and has undergone multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy as the disease spread to her hip and spine. 6a00d8341bf7d953ef022ad3724b8a200c-200pi

If her prognosis worsens, Sealy wants the option to end her life under the care of a physician through New Jersey's medical aid in dying law for the terminally ill. 

But the 43-year-old woman lives in Pennsylvania, and New Jersey's law prohibits patients from other states from accessing physicians authorized to perform end of life procedures.  

Sealy is one of several plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against New Jersey arguing that the state's residency requirements for medical aid in dying patients are unconstitutional by preventing her from accessing physicians in the state who are willing to perform the procedure. 

In court filings, Sealy's lawyers said she meets age and other requirements to qualify for medical aid in dying, if her prognosis worsens to six months or less to live. She lives less than 10 minutes away from the New Jersey line, they said. 

"The only thing that would prevent Mincieli from accessing the medical aid she desires — were her prognosis to worsen — as the acts on constitutional residency requirement," her lawyers wrote in the 32-page complaint. "The statute is thereby causing her needless stress and uncertainty." 

Sealy's lawyers said she wants to start making end-of-life arrangements and knowing that she has the option of medical aid in dying would "provide a palliative effect." 

"It will reduce her anxiety by providing her with peace of mind to know that she will not have to suffer needlessly," they wrote.

The lawsuit was also filed on behalf of Judy Govatos, a 79-year-old Delaware woman, who was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma about nine years ago. She, too, wants to have access to New Jersey's medical aid in dying, but is also barred by the residency requirement.

"Ms. Govatos does not want to die," her lawyers wrote. "However, she understands that her time left to live is limited. She is also worried that hospice care may not manage the pain and symptoms that will accompany the end of her life." 

New Jersey is one of 10 states and the District of Columbia with a medical aid in dying law, also known as physician-assisted suicide. The law, which took effect in 2019, allows terminally ill patients 18 and over to be prescribed a lethal dose of medication to end their lives. New Jersey is one of eight jurisdictions with a residency mandate.

The legal challenge, which includes several physicians as plaintiffs, is supported by the group Compassion & Choices, which advocates for medical aid in dying laws. 

The group has sued to remove residency requirements in Vermont and Oregon.