Renewed push to legalize medically assisted death

End-of-life options bill returns to Capitol

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Proponents of medical aid in dying are renewing efforts at the Minnesota State Capitol, but concede their effort is more about creating a dialog given the current political climate.

"It is not euthanasia, it is not assisted suicide," Sen. Chris Eaton, a Brooklyn Center Democrat, told reporters at a Capitol press conference Wednesday.

"Individuals seeking medical aid in dying do not want to die. Their goal is to relieve suffering that progresses only to inevitable death."

Eaton's End-of-Life Options Act of 2017 would allow persons to end their own lives if they have a documented terminal illness, have less than six months to live, still have full decision making capacity and are able to self-administer the drugs. It would require approval of two physicians, and the request for the drug would have to be in writing.

Karen Warren of Minneapolis, who has been diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disorder known as Multiple System Atrophy, was one of two terminally ill persons who appeared at Wednesday's event.

"The reality is that I'm dying. Unless I get hit by a truck I know how I will die and it won't be pretty," Warren, a retired philosophy professor at Macalester College, remarked.

She said no matter how much pain she's in during the final days of her life she won't be able to seek the kind of help available in Oregon and other places that have legalized medical aid in dying.

"That is because here in Minnesota it is illegal to help someone end their life in order to stop their prolonged suffering."

Medically assisted end of life is now legal in Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Vermont, Colorado and the District of Columbia.

Reporters also heard from Bobbi Jacobsen of Richfield, who has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

"I can no longer speak intelligibly, walk, shower or dress myself, or even get out of bed without assistance," Jacobsen explained, using a pre-recorded message from a text-to-voice translator.

She said she's lucky to have survived long enough to see her grandchildren, but she knows she'll reach a point where she'll be kept alive through a machine until the disease claims her life.

"Before I reach this stage I'd like to have the option of a peaceful, painless death." 

Sally Settle told the story of how her mother, Pat Travant, died a prolonged death from leukemia,

"She desperately wanted to have the option to avoid the misery and pain she knew was coming the last days and weeks of her life," Settle said, while holding a photo of her mother.

Opposition to the legislation includes the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, which includes the president of The ARC of Minnesota. The organization asserts that persons with severe disabilities will suffer the brunt of legalized assisted suicide.

Stephani Liesmaki, a spokesperson for the Alliance, said that palliative care options are preferable to allowing people to end their own lives.

"Especially here in Minnesota you never have to approach death in pain," Liesmaki told KARE.

"It’s really disappointing to think that individuals would rather hasten a person’s death, rather than support them through the journey by advancing quality care that supports patients."

Liesmaki said involving doctors in a patient's suicide breaks the patient-caregiver relationship, and that doctors could end up being pressured by health plans and insurance companies to influence their patients' decisions.

"There's no way to foster that relationship if a patient can't totally trust the motivations of their doctor."

Sen. Eaton and Rep. Mike Freiberg, the author of the companion bill in the House, say they don't expect the bills to be granted hearings in the Republican controlled legislature this year. But they say they want to keep the conversation going, because many Minnesotans have expressed support.

© 2017 KARE-TV


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