Govatos v. Murphy

Litigation: Filed August 29, 2023

At a Glance:

Compassion & Choices filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey on behalf of two terminally ill people and two physicians who participate in the practice of medical aid in dying. The lawsuit challenges a requirement that restricts access to the state’s medical aid-in-dying law to only New Jersey residents.

New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act requires physicians to determine whether or not a terminally ill person who requests medical aid in dying is a New Jersey resident before writing a prescription for the medication.

Compassion & Choices believes these so-called residency restrictions are unconstitutional and impermissibly limit a person’s ability to access healthcare and a doctor’s ability to offer healthcare to their patients.

The Details:

On August 29, 2023, Compassion & Choices filed a lawsuit on behalf of two cancer patients — Judith Govatos, a resident of Wilmington, Delaware, with stage-4 lymphoma; and Andrea Sealy, a resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with metastatic breast cancer — and two physicians who participate in the practice of medical aid in dying, Dr. Paul Bryman and Dr. Deborah Pasik. The lawsuit seeks to prohibit state officials from enforcing the residency restriction in New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, allowing both qualifying in-state and out-of-state residents to access medical aid in dying in New Jersey.

New Jersey’s Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act allows mentally capable, terminally ill, hospice-eligible adults to obtain prescription medication to peacefully end their suffering. The plaintiffs assert that the law’s residency requirement violates three clauses in the U.S. Constitution, specifically the:

  1. Privileges and Immunities Clause, by limiting the availability of medical aid in dying to residents of New Jersey.
  2. Dormant Commerce Clause, by restricting interstate commerce, including medical care.
  3. Equal Protection Clause, by failing to provide residents and nonresidents equal protection under federal law.

Both Judith Govatos and Andrea Sealy would like the option of medical aid in dying should their suffering become unbearable, but are currently ineligible because they do not live in New Jersey.

Dr. Bryman and Dr. Pasik regularly treat patients at the end of life but are unable to offer their out-of-state patients the same end-of-life options as their in-state patients. If not for New Jersey’s residency restriction, Drs. Bryman and Pasik would be able to offer qualifying terminally ill patients the option of medical aid in dying.

We will continue to update this page as the case develops.

Compassion & Choices is committed to ensuring everyone has the full range of options for the end of life, including medical aid in dying. To learn more about Compassion & Choices’ work to protect and expand medical aid in dying through the courts, please visit our Medical Aid in Dying Litigation page.

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VICTORY: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed the improved End-of-Life Options Act.