A bill before the Minnesota Legislature, if enacted into law, would attract people from all over the country to travel to Minnesota to receive lethal suicide drugs.
Surprised? The legislation in question (HF 2152) is an assisted-suicide bill designed to allow patients to request lethal drugs if they have a terminal illness with death predicted to occur within six months. A physician or non-physician health care provider could write the prescription. There is no requirement that the person requesting lethal drugs be a resident of Minnesota.
Hypothetically — or in reality, if this bill becomes law — a physician or a non-physician health care provider could set up a practice where Minnesota residents, or people from all over the country, would come to receive their lethal drugs. The proposed law is so lax that a patient could obtain a “diagnosis” from a physician or non-physician health care provider — who has never seen the patient before — and, on the same day, the patient needs to make only one oral and one written request to receive the drugs to be administered almost immediately. How convenient for those traveling from afar to take advantage of this expansive law.
The proposed law is problematic for many other reasons:
• The ability to predict life expectancy is often inaccurate for a physician, with a margin of error of 50-70%. Placing a patient on hospice requires a certification that the patient will die within six months. Patients are put on hospice and taken off on a regular basis because their outcomes change. If a physician cannot make this determination accurately, how would a non-physician health care provider suddenly have the expertise to make such a judgment?
• Proponents advocate for this legislation on the basis that it eliminates pain and suffering for patients. Yet, reports in Oregon and Washington reveal that alleviating pain is not among the top five reasons why patients request lethal drugs.
• Once a lethal prescription is filled, there is no medical supervision required when the patient takes the lethal drugs. An heir to the patient’s estate could find the prescription and would then have the opportunity to coerce or trick the patient into taking them, or placing them in the patient’s food without knowledge or consent.
• Similarly, no witness of the patient’s consent is required, and an attending provider can even obtain consent based on lip reading by a person familiar with the person’s manner of communication.
• The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal for 20 years, the suicide rate in the general population has increased by 49%, compared with a national suicide increase of 28%. This is because suicide is suddenly promoted as a “good” or an attractive option. It may be offered on a day when the patient is discouraged or depressed. Families that have been devastated by a suicide know full well the toll this takes on all involved. Why would Minnesota want to become another Oregon?
• Doctors and institutional health care providers who do not consider assisted suicide to be health care are required to offer assisted suicide as a treatment option in cases of terminal diagnoses. This is an attack on the integrity and conscience rights of health care professionals.
Minnesota residents should resoundingly reject this dangerous legislation, which is capable of being misused by unscrupulous doctors, insurance companies and legal beneficiaries. Protecting the choices of some who want to end their life endangers the choices and well-being of the rest of us. We deserve better than to have our proud Gopher State turned into a suicide destination attraction.
Jeff Vest and Greg Deckert are Twin Cities estate planning and probate attorneys and members of the North Star Law and Policy Center. HF 2152 is scheduled for an informational hearing Wednesday by the Minnesota House Health and Human Services Policy Committee. Readers may e-mail them at email@example.com.