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Terminally ill Connecticut woman ends her life on her own terms in Vermont

Lynda Shannon Bluestein, left, jams with her husband Paul in the living room of their home, Feb. 28, 2023, in Bridgeport, Conn. (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi)
Rodrique Ngowi/AP
Lynda Shannon Bluestein, left, plays music with her husband Paul in the living room of their home, Feb. 28, 2023, in Bridgeport, Conn.

A Connecticut woman who pushed for expanded access to Vermont's law that allows people who are terminally ill to receive lethal medication to end their lives died in Vermont on Thursday, an event her husband called “comfortable and peaceful,” just like she wanted.

Lynda Bluestein, 76, who had terminal cancer, ended her life by taking prescribed medication. Her son confirmed to Connecticut Public that she started the process early Thursday morning and died at 9:15 a.m.

Her last words were "'I’m so happy I don’t have to do this (suffer) anymore,'" her husband Paul wrote in an email on Thursday.

In 2022, Bluestein spoke with Connecticut Public Radio's "Audacious," describing what she wanted to do before she died.

"At the top of the list is forgive everyone. I don't want to carry around anything with me that, in the end, matters not at all," she said.

In 2023, Bluestein reached a settlement with the state of Vermont, that allowed her, and others, to take their own life in the state. She had gone to court to challenge residency requirements in Vermont's medically-assisted suicide law.

The state agreed to a settlement last March that allowed Bluestein, who is not a Vermont resident, to use the law to die in Vermont. And two months later, Vermont made such accommodations available to anyone in similar circumstances, becoming the first state in the country to change its law to allow terminally ill people from out of state to take advantage of it to end their lives.

Diana Barnard, a physician from Middlebury who advocated for the expansion of Vermont's law, said it's a sad day because Bluestein's life came to an end, but that "more than a silver lining is the beauty and the peace that came from Lynda having a say in what happened at the very end of her life.”

"Lynda was a really special person," Barnard told Vermont Public. "And when it came to this issue, her ability — not only to do what was right for her, but to want to make this option available for everybody — was really quite remarkable."

Ten states allow medically assisted suicide but before Vermont changed its law only one state — Oregon — allowed non-residents to do it, by not enforcing the residency requirement as part of a court settlement. Oregon went on to remove that requirement this past summer.

Vermont’s law, in effect since 2013, allows physicians to prescribe lethal medication to people with an incurable illness that is expected to kill them within six months.

Supporters say the law 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 timeframe and then submit a written request, signed in the presence of two or more witnesses who aren’t interested parties. The 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.

Others express moral opposition to assisted suicide and say there are no safeguards to protect vulnerable patients from coercion.

Bluestein, a lifelong activist, who advocated for similar legislation to be passed in Connecticut and New York, which has not happened, wanted to make sure she didn't die like her mother, in a hospital bed after a prolonged illness. She told The Associated Press last year that she wanted to pass away surrounded by her husband, children, grandchildren, wonderful neighbors, friends and dog.

“I wanted to have a death that was meaningful, but that it didn’t take forever ... for me to die,” she said.

"I don't think that when my body dies, that's the end of me," she said. "I think there's so much more."

Involved in wind phone effort

Bluestein and her son, Jacob Shannon, were the force behind an effort in Connecticut that enables people to use a rotary phone to have one-way conversations with their loved ones who've died. They're called "wind phones" and they've started to pop up across the U.S. and beyond.

Bluestein helped get a wind phone installed in the Fairfield County town of Ridgefield. She said she wanted the wind phone to be a space for normalizing grief.

“I don’t think that when my body dies that’s the end of me,” she told Connecticut Public in 2023. “I think there’s so much more, and I want them to know we’re still connected by love. I saw having a wind phone here as a place where my family and friends can go and keep me alive.”

Bluestein thought of these wind phones as her legacy — something tangible her friends, family, and even strangers can use to stay connected to those they’ve lost.

“I don’t have a lot of time left,” she said, “but I have a lot of ideas about where I would like wind phones to be around Fairfield County.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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