More than 200 people attended an informational hearing of a Minnesota House committee Wednesday that listened to testimony regarding an assisted suicide bill, which is unlikely to advance in the Republican-led Senate.
Among those testifying against the End-of-Life Options Act was Kathy Ware, who cares for her 21-year-old son Kylen, who has multiple disabilities.
“My son is not undignified because I have to help him use the bathroom,” Ware said Sept. 11, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “This bill makes a public statement by law that death is better than living with a disability like Kylen.”
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mike Freiberg of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. It would allow a mentally capable adult with a terminal illness who has six months or fewer to live to be prescribed life-ending medication. A second doctor would have to confirm the terminally ill adult's situation.
The manner of death of those who commit assisted suicide would be “listed as the underlying terminal illness and not as a suicide or homicide.”
The bill says that “a person who has custody or control of medical aid-in-dying medication … that remains unused after the terminally ill adult's death shall dispose of the unused medical aid-in-dying medication by lawful means according to state and federal guidelines including: (1) returning the unused medical aid-in-dying medication to a federally approved medication take-back program or mail-back program; or (2) returning the unused medical aid-in-dying medication to the local or state police departments who shall dispose of the medication by lawful means.”
In Oregon, where assisted suicide was legalized in 1997, doctors have written 2,217 prescriptions for lethal medication, and about two-thirds of those who were prescribed them, 1,459, have died from the drugs.
The Minnesota bill would allow health care providers to choose not to provide assisted suicide, but requires the provider to “make reasonable efforts to accommodate the terminally ill adult's request including transferring care of the terminally ill adult to a new health care provider.”
Health care facilities would be able to bar their employees from providing assisted suicide only if the terminally ill person intends to take the medication “on the facility's premises.”
The bill also declares that what it terms “aid-in-dying” does not constitute suicide or assisted suicide.
Marianne Turnbull, a St. Paul resident who has cancer and supports the bill, said at the hearing of the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee that “when the time comes, I want a good death. I want to die at home surrounded by people who love me.”
Stephanie Packer travelled from California to testify against the bill, the Star Tribune reported. Packer has pulmonary fibrosis, and said her insurer stopped covering several of her medications after assisted suicide was legalized in her home state, and she was told her copay for assisted suicide medication would be only $1.20.
“If there are other options out there to save them money, they are good businesspeople, and they are going to do it,” she said of insurance companies.
A Nevada physician, Dr. T. Brian Callister, warned that with legal assisted suicide, “what we are going to see is a movement towards the cheapest treatment” by insurers. “The cheapest treatment is the medicine that is going to kill you.”
Senator John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, told the AP that insurers could pressure the elderly and disabled to use assisted suicide medication, and said, “I think people with disabilities should be pretty concerned.”
Rep. Anne Neu questioned at the hearing how many people would choose assisted suicide “in fear of being a burden on their families.”
The state's bishops are among the religious leaders opposed to the bill.
At the hearing, Asad Zaman of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota noted his opposition to the bill, while Harlan Limpert, a Unitarian Universalist minister, indicated his support.
Senator Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who chairs the Minnesota Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said shortly after the House committee's hearing that “physician-assisted suicide is a dangerous policy and we will not hear it in the Senate.”
“Many of those opposed to state-sanctioned suicide are in the mental health and disability community because when people are vulnerable, they are at the greatest risk of outside influence clouding their personal judgement,” she noted. “When people are facing difficult decisions or even desperation, the state should not be telling them ending their life is a way out.”
Benson suggested palliative care as a “life-affirming” alternative, and said: “In fact, we proposed a palliative care commission to discuss policy options that would support palliative care, but House Democrats opposed the bill.”
“Senate Republicans have increased funding and expanded health care access to those with mental health issues in recent years. It frightens me to consider someone who may be having suicidal ideation could be told that suicide is a positive choice for their life. Let’s be clear: it is not. Whether it’s done by a medical professional or an individual’s tragic decision, suicide hurts those left behind,” she stated.
“Finally, if physician-assisted suicide becomes law, it may be easier for some to remind those with a high level of care that it is cheaper for them to die than to keep them alive. The cost of care is not how we determine the value of someone’s life.”
The state legislature will not reconvene until February 2020.
In the US, assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and in Montana by a court ruling. A law allowing it in Maine will take effect Jan. 1, 2020, and a law legalizing it in New Jersey is on hold while it is being challenged in court.
In Colorado, a Colorado man who has cancer and his doctor have filed a suit against a Catholic health system alleging that its policy barring doctors from participating in assisted suicide violates state law.