End-of-Life Option Act Introduced in Both the House and Senate

According to House Democrats, a survey taken at the Minnesota State Fair in 2016 shows a majority of Minnesotans supporting an end-of-life option for terminally ill patients.

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Preya Samsundar/Alpha News MN

SAINT PAUL, Minn — House Democrats introduced Senate File 1572 in a press conference Wednesday morning which would allow terminally ill adults the right to end their life with the aid of medical professionals.

The End-of-Life Option Act for 2017 is authored by Sen. Chris Eaton (D-Brooklyn Center) and Rep. Mike Freiberg (D-Hopkins).

The bill includes multiple qualifying guidelines for individuals seeking to end their life early. They must be adult residents of Minnesota who are mentally and physically capable of making the decision to end their life, they must have a terminal illness which will result in death within six months, must be able to administer the drug on their own, and they must have written consent from two medical practitioners who have assessed their medical situation.

“This legislation offers the dying person a choice to decide whether their pain and suffering is too great to withstand the pain” according to Eaton.

The bill would include an opt-out for insurance companies who would not feel comfortable paying for the death-inducing drugs. “There is nothing in this bill that would require Medicaid to cover it now” according to Dr. Rebecca Thoman with Doctors with Dignity. However, Thoman and Eaton note the bill is heavily based on similar legislation found in Oregon. In Oregon, where the law has been active for 20 years, Medicaid made the decision to cover death-inducing drugs in case of terminal illness according to Thoman.

Supporters of the bill were quick to shut down any links made to assisted-suicide and euthanasia. Freiberg told reporters, “most people don’t want to die.” According to a packet handed out by Thoman’s group, Compassion & Choices MN, “those facing terminal illness do not want to die but – by definition – are dying. They are facing an imminent death from a terminal illness and want the option to avoid unbearable suffering.” Supporters also say euthanasia is not a possibility as the law in Oregon has not been expanded during its twenty years of practice. Also, people must ask for and administer the drugs themselves.

Many of the supporters in the room of the End-of-Life Option Act were senior citizens. “I have been supporting an individual’s right to make end-of-life choices for many years. I remember when the living wills passed 25 years ago, there was a struggle there. The same opponents, religious organization. The Catholic Church was a big opponent at that time. Now if you go to a Catholic Hospital, you find that they find health care directives enables them to perform better medical care. It’s the same thing. It’s about giving people choices to improve their quality of life, when they’re at the end of life…This should not be a partisan view, it should be a family choice.” according to Steve Peterson, a local supporter of the bill.

However, critics of the bill were quick to show their displeasure. “SF 1572 and its House counterpart lack sufficient safeguards, an oversight that could allow for elder abuse and harm to vulnerable persons. The legislation also undermines the ethical core of healthcare, which is to heal, and creates economic incentives that could endanger those with disabilities and all who are impacted by disparities in healthcare” Stephani Liesmaki with MN Alliance for Ethical Healthcare said after the press conference was over. She explained more than 500 Minnesota medical professionals signed a petition to oppose assisted suicide. Liesmaki explains there are economic incentives with this bill because “the cost of administering drugs like physician-assisted suicide costs so much less than some quality health care programs that are meant to assist individuals with chronic illnesses, there will naturally be a trend that leads to incentivising individuals to take steps towards physician-assisted suicide by health care providers.”

Eaton told reporters she has not asked for a committee hearing on her bill and does not expect to get one.

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