By David McLoone
Last week, two Democrat lawmakers in Minnesota proposed a bill to the state Legislature that would allow terminally ill Minnesotans to “receive a prescription for medical aid in dying medication” if they are assessed as having six months or less to live.
The “End of Life Option Act,” S.F. 1352, was sponsored by Sens. Chris Eaton and John Marty, both members of the Democratic Party. If successful, their legislation would usher in an assisted suicide statute to the state of Minnesota, making it the ninth U.S. state to do so, as well as Washington, D.C.
The act demands that an attending physician “determine whether an individual has a terminal disease with a prognosis of six months or less and is mentally capable” before prescribing the lethal medication. It also stipulates that the physician ensures “that the individual’s request does not arise from coercion or undue influence” by simply “asking the individual about coercion and influence.”
In order to procure the “dying medication,” all a qualifying patient must do is “make one oral request and one written request to the attending health care provider and one oral request to the consulting health care provider.”
Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota’s oldest and largest pro-life organization, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MMCL), excoriated the proposal in a press statement, saying “Assisted suicide is a danger to all of us.”
“This legislation has gone nowhere in past years, and state lawmakers must firmly reject it again. Contrary to the assertions of activists trying to generate public support, legalizing assisted suicide would pose real risks to Minnesotans.”
Noting many of the dangers that arise from implementing assisted suicide legislation, the MMCL press release pointed to the lack of any safeguarding measures in place after the drug has been dispensed “to prevent pressure, coercion, or abuse,” adding that “no one is required to witness the death.”
Additionally, the pro-life organization made the observation that, in the past, states which already have so-called “Death with Dignity” legislation, like Oregon, have seen local health insurers “steer patients toward suicide rather than expensive life-extending treatment.”
They point to the example of Randy Stroup, a 53-year-old Oregon man who was suffering from prostate cancer. Given the high cost of chemotherapy and his lack of insurance, Stroup was forced to seek financial help, which he applied for through Oregon’s state-run health plan.
Instead of offering Stroup assistance with his expensive cancer treatment, the health association sent him a letter offering to cover the cost of a physician-assisted suicide.
The bill proposed to the Minnesota Senate is based on Oregon’s assisted suicide legislation.
MMCL also raised concerns about the fact that the act does not include a provision for necessary psychiatric assessment prior to dispensing the drug to the patient, rather leaving the decision to evaluate a patient’s mental health with the prescribing doctor.
Looking to those states which already have similar legislation in place, the MMCL cited a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information into the “Prevalence of depression and anxiety in patients requesting physicians’ aid in dying” in Oregon. The authors concluded that “the current practice of the Death with Dignity Act may fail to protect some patients whose choices are influenced by depression from receiving a prescription for a lethal drug.”
The researchers urged that “increased vigilance and systematic examination for depression among patients who may access legalised aid in dying are needed” to protect mentally ill patients.
A final observation made by MMCL is that patients with prognoses of six months or less to live often outlive these predictions by many years, thus demonstrating the unreliability of an attending physician’s assessment of a qualifying patient, a key factor in the “attending provider responsibilities” subdivision of the proposed legislation.
“People who are at risk of suicide deserve our protection,” Fischbach said. “Those facing an adverse prognosis or the challenges of disability deserve our protection no less than physically healthy and able-bodied people. We all count.”
Minnesota legislators have attempted to have assisted suicide legalized in the state from around 2016. At that time, the proposal was withdrawn following the Senate hearing, which featured two hours of public testimony, including that of 17 physicians, nurses, attorneys, and members of the disability community who warned of the grave dangers assisted suicide poses to vulnerable members of society.
Since then, assisted suicide measures were floated and rejected a further three times in Minnesota before the latest iteration, S.F. 1352, was introduced.
In countries and states where euthanasia has been legal for decades, there has been a marked increase in the number of people electing to die by euthanasia. Antonia Tully, of the SPUC Lives Worth Living Campaign, said: “It is sad that people see death as the solution to their problems. But this is how people start to think once euthanasia has been legalized.”
Tully noted the enormous growth in number of people dying by euthanasia, between some three and ten times the amount in 2019 versus in 2002 in the Netherlands and Belgium, respectively, according to a Vienna-based bioethics institute.
“This is devastating data and each death is a tragedy. We know that in countries where assisted suicide is legal, many who ‘choose’ to die report that they want to avoid becoming a burden on family and carers,” Tully said. “Over a third of Canadians who were killed by assisted suicide in 2019 claimed that they feared being a burden on family, friends and caregivers if they continued to live.”
“There is a creeping culture of death spreading around the globe as euthanasia laws are passed in one country after another. During 2020, New Zealand, Spain and Portugal all passed bills to allow assisted suicide,” she observed.
“[We] must resist all attempts to normalize this dangerous practice and instead promote a society where each human life is valued and respected.”