At the age of 94, Tony’s grandmother Annie had lived a full, rich life. She had worked as a cook, raised two boys, kept poultry in her garage, and presided over a sprawling garden. A self-sufficient widow, she lived alone in a tiny house on a small-town Main Street. The steeple of the Catholic church that she attended every day was almost close enough to cast a shadow onto her porch.
Things started to fall apart when Annie tumbled down her steep steps. A broken hip landed her in the hospital, and then a crowded nursing home. A leg infection from diabetes complications led to an amputation. Annie was miserable and in physical agony. She believed she would never return to a meaningful life, and her doctors agreed that she did not have long to live. Her most fervent wish –expressed repeatedly every time we visited her – was that she could die with her family around her. Instead, she died alone and in pain, in the middle of the night.
Where a peaceful death is a crime
In 10 states, the peaceful death Annie wished for is legal. In Minnesota, it is a crime. It’s high time for Minnesota to catch up to New Mexico and eight other states – plus the District of Columbia –where medical aid in dying is legal.
Don’t just take our word for it! Two-thirds of our fellow Minnesotans feel the same way. Fully 66 percent of 5,000 Minnesotans surveyed by the Minnesota Senate’s research staff in 2016 agreed with this statement: “When a mentally adult is dying from a terminal illness, they should be able to receive a prescription for life-ending medication that they self-administer.”
End of Life Options Act
A bill introduced in the Minnesota legislature last month decriminalizes medical aid in dying, in exactly this way. The bill is modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which has been in practice for 25 years without a single instance of abuse or coercion. This bill needs to be heard, and it needs to pass. If you agree, contact your state senator and representative and tell them you support the Minnesota End of Life Options Act (SF 1813/HF 1930).
Facts about end-of-life options
To counter misinformation about medical aid in dying, here are some more facts you need to know.
As with the Oregon law, to be eligible, a person must be an adult (18 or older); terminally ill with a prognosis of six months or less to live; and capable of making an informed decision. The dying person must swallow the medication (ruling out the possibility of third-party injections) and must be informed about other end-of-life care options, including hospice and pain control. A person’s choice for medical aid can be withdrawn at any point, and providers can opt out. No one is forced to participate.
Bi-partisan, statewide support
Minnesota’s elected officials should be supporting this sensible, popular, vetted initiative. Their constituents do! A survey of Minnesota voters conducted by the national research firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner concluded, “There is bi-partisan support for this legislation and support across generations, geography and religious faiths.”
Politicians do not lose votes by supporting medical aid in dying. In fact, the survey found that 61 percent of voters would be more likely to support a candidate who supports legislation legalizing medical aid in dying.
So, why hasn’t this sensible law, which prioritizes freedom of choice in medical decision-making passed? Maybe we’re just scared. Death is something no one wants to think about, but all of us will experience, some of us in the deep throes of pain. Let’s ensure that when terminal suffering becomes unbearable – as it did for Annie and as it has for so many others – there can be a peaceful, legal, dignified way to end it.
Patricia Ohmans is a public health professional and a member of Compassion and Choices, an organization dedicated to improving care, expanding options and empowering everyone to chart their end-of-life journey. Tony Schmitz is a retired journalist, a novelist, and a boat-builder. Patricia and Tony live in Frogtown.
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