After more than three hours of emotional testimony March 16 from both proponents and opponents of a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Minnesota, the bill’s sponsor withdrew it from committee consideration, saying it wasn’t ready for a vote.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference celebrated the move, but Jason Adkins, its executive director, said Minnesotans need to learn about the issue and prepare for the bill to be refiled next year.
“The bill will undoubtedly come back,” he said. “It’s important that people educate themselves about the pitfalls of the bill and the flaws of the bill that really make it a risky, dangerous and complicated proposition. Once . . . the barbiturates are prescribed, there’s no oversight as to what happens next. The bill is not about compassionate care; it’s about allowing someone to get a vial of pills and go home to die, potentially alone.”
Compassion and Choices, a national organization that promotes “aid in dying” legislation, has targeted Minnesota for focused advocacy, Adkins said. Introduced last year by Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Center), the Minnesota Compassionate Care Act, S.F. 1880, was heard by the Minnesota Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee. The state’s House of Representatives reportedly decided not to hear a companion measure.
Testifying in support of the legislation was Dan Diaz, husband of Brittany Maynard, who made headlines last year after moving from California to Oregon to access legal physician-assisted suicide after she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She died Nov. 1, 2015, after taking drugs prescribed to end her life.
“The brain tumor was killing her, and of that she had no control. But what she could control is the manner in which her final few days would play out,” said Diaz, who invoked his Catholic faith as a reason he wouldn’t judge another’s end-of-life decision.
The Catholic Church opposes physician-assisted suicide, a position affirmed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in its 2011 statement, “To Live Each Day with Dignity.”
Others who testified for the legislation described the suffering of dying parents and loved ones, some who wished they could have ended their own lives.
The legislation’s opponents said efforts were better focused on improving palliative care to ease or eliminate dying people’s suffering. Several people expressed offense at their medical conditions or those of dependents fitting the legislation’s criteria for reasons one would seek death. Many, including doctors and health care professionals, expressed legal and medical concerns that the practice could be manipulated or abused, or that people would chose death out of fear of medical bills or burdening others with their suffering.
“We become better people when we bear each other’s burdens, not when we bury people because they are burdens,” testified Elizabeth Bakewicz, who said she has terminal brain cancer, epilepsy and Graves’ disease. “I am more than a burden. I am a human being, and I request that you vote against this bill.”