We often don't have control of when or how we leave this world, but Lynda Shannon Bluestein has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She's battled three different cancers. She's gone through years of surgeries and chemotherapy, but there was still a reoccurrence. Her mother had a similar journey with cancer.
"It was the exact death that my mother wouldn't have wanted," Shannon Bluestein said. "To have it in a hospital with all this equipment and nobody was in control of her. And I just, I just held her. And then I felt her die. And I said, that's not going to be how I go."
Shannon Bluestein wants some peace of mind regarding her inevitable death. So she's seeking medical aid in dying.
Compassion and Choices CEO Kim Callinan says medical aid in dying involves somebody getting prescribed medication so they can choose when to peacefully leave this life.
"Medical aid in dying is an option that a person is able to decide to take that allows them to end their suffering if it becomes too great, if they're already going to die," Callinan said. "So you have to be terminally ill, mentally competent, have a prognosis of six months or less to live, and be able to take the medication themselves. And it is available in ten states and Washington D.C."
The situation has been complicated for Shannon Bluestein because she lives in Connecticut where there are no medical aid in dying laws.
She wanted to access it in neighboring state Vermont, but couldn't due to a residency requirement. The requirement has existed since 1997 when medical aid in dying became legal in the state of Oregon.
"There was a concern that death tourism would take place and people from states outside of Oregon were going to come to Oregon in order to access medical aid and dying," Callinan said. "But the reality is that it's really difficult for somebody who is terminally ill and mentally competent to pick up and move to another state. And then you have to stay in the state to take the medication in order to get the protection."
So, Shannon Bluestein sued the state of Vermont to get rid of the requirement. Vermont made the change in May, and Oregon made the change in July.
Callinan says other states with medical aid in dying took notice and are also considering getting rid of the residency requirement. She also says 20 more states across the country brought forth legislation this year for medical aid in dying, with growing momentum in Massachusetts, Nevada, Delaware, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Maryland.
As for Shannon Bluestein, she has to travel to Vermont to get the prescription, and when she ultimately decides to pass on, she will need to take the medication there, too.
So even without the residency requirement, it's still a complicated process. However, she says she's grateful she's been able to make a difference.
"I have twin granddaughters who are 17 years old," Shannon Bluestein said. "I want this to be a different story ending for them. I have a daughter who's 47 years old and, you know, she's got my genes. I hope she doesn't follow in my footsteps in terms of having all these cancers, but I want it to be easier for her."