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Some Terminally Ill PA Patients Seek Medical Aid Across State Lines

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New Jersey's Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act requires a physician to determine whether the patient is a New Jersey resident before writing a prescription for the medication. (Jon Anders Wiken/Adobe Stock)
New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act requires a physician to determine whether the patient is a New Jersey resident before writing a prescription for the medication. (Jon Anders Wiken/Adobe Stock)

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 Farah Siddiqi, Producer

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Wednesday, September 6, 2023   

Some Pennsylvania patients with long-term chronic illnesses are hoping to make legal headway, allowing them to seek medical aid in dying across state lines.

Andrea Sealy, a patient advocate and cancer patient who has endured a double mastectomy, more than 10 surgeries and multiple rounds of radiation, lives just 10 minutes from New Jersey and would prefer to have choices in death should she need them.

Sealy noted she lives a full a life, but if her health declines, she does not want legal stipulations to get in the way of her quality of life or death.

“I don’t want to die, I want to have that free will and option when a situation comes about,” Sealy explained. “I would like to avoid any suffering and also to spare my family and loved ones the same. I want to feel free to live until then, as well.”

Pennsylvania law does not currently allow for medical aid in dying. State lawmakers introduced the Compassionate Aid in Dying Act earlier this year. If passed, it would allow a person with a terminal illness to get a doctor’s prescription to ease their suffering if they choose to use it.

New Jersey has such a law, but Sealy is one of the patients challenging its residency stipulation in U.S. District Court.

Kevin Diaz, chief legal advocacy officer for Compassion & Choices, said medical aid in dying is the only medical treatment barred to nonresidents anywhere in the country. He sees it as unconstitutional and argued everyone should have their rights.

“People really should not have their medical care determined by what ZIP code they live in,” Diaz contended. “And if there’s medical care that is two miles away from you, or 50 miles away from you, just because it’s in another state that you should be able to access it, assuming that you know it’s available and lawful and it’s something that really is in your best interest.”

The lawsuit is the third in the nation to challenge a medical aid-in-dying law’s residency requirement. Nationwide, 10 jurisdictions have passed laws with a residency mandate, but two states have removed the requirement following legal challenges by Compassion & Choices. 

Disclosure: Compassion & Choices contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Health Issues, Senior Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.