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'Death Tourism': 2nd State Allows Nonresidents to Commit Assisted Suicide

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Vermont has become the second U.S. state to change its medically assisted suicide law to allow terminally ill nonresidents to end their lives.  

On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed the bill that removes the residency requirement for the decades-old law.

Vermont is one of 10 states that allow medically assisted suicide. Critics of such laws say without the residency requirements states risk becoming assisted suicide tourism destinations.

University of Massachusetts law professor Dwight Duncan told the National Catholic Register in February that "it opens up this idea of 'death tourism' — that you travel there as a place to be killed."  

"It's one thing to travel to Vermont because they have great ski slopes. It's another thing to travel there because they have great undertakers," he added. 

Oregon is the only other state that allows nonresidents to go through the process to receive lethal medication. It agreed to stop enforcing the residency requirement last year after a court settlement. 

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Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of the Vermont Right to Life Committee, testified before a legislative committee in March that the practice of assisted suicide "was, and remains, a matter of contention."

"To be clear, Vermont Right to Life opposed the underlying concept behind assisted suicide and opposes the move to remove the residency requirement as there are still no safeguards that protect vulnerable patients from coercion," said Beerworth.

Supporters of Vermont's medically assisted suicide law, also known as Act 39, say it 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 time frame and then submit a written request that they signed in the presence of two or more witnesses who aren't interested parties. 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.

According to Vermont law, participation by any healthcare professional with a medically assisted suicide is completely voluntary and protected from civil and criminal liability or professional disciplinary action. 

Before Vermont removed the residency requirement, it reached a settlement with a Connecticut woman who has terminal cancer to allow her to use the new law, provided she complies with other aspects of it.

Lynda Bluestein, 75, sued Vermont last year claiming its residency requirement violates the U.S. Constitution's commerce, equal protection, and privileges and immunities clauses.

What Americans Think of Assisted Suicide

As CBN News reported in December, a survey by Lifeway Research found most Americans now believe assisted suicide is morally acceptable. However, most evangelical Christians say the practice is wrong. 

Lifeway Executive Director Scott McConnell said the findings indicate Americans want more say over how they die. 

"If they are facing a slow, painful death, Americans want options," McConnell explained. "Many believe that asking for help in dying is a moral option. They don't believe that suffering until they die of natural causes is the only way out."

The survey respondents were asked to either agree or disagree with the following statement: "When a person is facing a painful terminal disease, it is morally acceptable to ask for a physician's aid in taking his or her own life."  

Two-thirds of all the respondents agreed. This included Americans of all age groups. Even the majority of people of faith such as Catholics and Protestants and those who attended religious services only occasionally, such as less than once a month agreed with the statement.

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However, evangelical Christians were reversed in their opinions. Two-thirds disagreed with the statement. The majority of people who attended religious services more frequently than once a month disagreed as did the majority of African-American respondents.

"Traditional Christian teaching says God holds the keys to life and death," McConnell noted. "Those who go to church or hold more traditional beliefs are less likely to see assisted suicide as morally acceptable. Still, a surprising number do."

Assisted suicide is not only a moral dilemma for some people of faith, it also poses a conflict for the medical community, particularly doctors, who historically take the Hippocratic Oath upon graduation from medical school. New doctors often pledge to "first, do no harm."  

Likewise, the American Medical Association has described physician-assisted suicide as a serious risk to society and "fundamentally incompatible with a physician's role as healer." Nevertheless, many physicians take part in assisted suicide.

In a 2017 article for Cedarville University's Center for Bioethics titled Biblical Ethics and Assisted Suicide, Corbett S. Hall, then a second-year osteopathic medical student, wrote, "At the very least, the despair that drives the taking of one's own life is a heart-wrenching tragedy and the work of our spiritual adversary. While certainly forgivable by our merciful Father, suicide is still an unfortunate result of the Fall, and should never be encouraged."

Hall also warned "Death by Dignity" was gaining traction among the American public, crediting Dr. Jack Kevorkian and others who pushed assisted suicide legislation for more than 30 years. 

In his paper's conclusion, he wrote, "Nonetheless, suicide is not a romantic idea to be celebrated. It is the work of the Enemy, and its victims are a tragic loss to be mourned."

Hall also quoted from the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans, Chapter 1:21-22 found in the Bible's New Testament which reads: 

"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools."

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of