The newest legislative proposal for doctor-assisted suicide would degrade the trusting relationship patients have with their providers and would harm vulnerable people ("Minnesotans need end-of-life aid," Feb. 24).
Protecting the choices of a few by legalizing assisted suicide would endanger the health care choices of all.
In February 2020, I joined colleagues across the world by donning personal protective equipment and entering the room of the first patient with COVID-19 symptoms I treated. We knew it was a terrible illness; physicians from China to Italy were dying because of their decision to care for patients.
What kept the nurses, doctors, paramedics, aides and myriad other roles coming to work? An orientation toward life, encoded in the DNA of medicine formed over many cultures and centuries: saving lives and doing one's best for the patient, even at high personal risk.
So, it is ironic and deeply troubling that legalizing assisted suicide is being considered during a pandemic that has forced all of us, particularly front-line medical workers, to show solidarity with the most vulnerable.
If the assisted suicide bill becomes law, it would require that providers who deal with terminal illnesses advise patients about the "treatment option" of ending their lives. Assisted suicide is incompatible with a physician's role as healer. It is a conflict in roles to have a single agent both working toward improving one's condition and counseling death.
The last thing we need to do is support legalization which undermines the foundation of medicine rather than advancing effective end-of-life care.
Instead, we should invest health care resources in ensuring greater access to hospice care, which is currently underused, especially among communities of color. Unfortunately, too many patients enter hospice late in their illness, often during the last week of life, and miss the benefits that such care affords to them and their families.
Community-based palliative care access can be difficult to obtain in Minnesota and should be expanded. In addition, the Legislature should renew funding for the state's Palliative Care Commission (created by Minnesota statute 144.059). Legalizing assisted suicide would only exacerbate and widen end-of-life health care disparities.
Sen. Chris Eaton overstates the supposed benefit of assisted suicide as a desire to relieve "unbearable suffering." Data from states which have legalized assisted suicide clearly shows that most patients make this choice, not due to suffering, but instead out of fear of being a burden to others, and polls also indicate that the majority of Americans do not support assisted suicide to avoid being a burden.
Minnesotans will also be concerned about the specifics of this bill, which include: no requirements for a witness to be present, family notification nor a mental health evaluation, and no meaningful safeguards against elder abuse or for people with disabilities.
Life-sustaining care is more costly than death. Patients have been denied care by insurers but offered assisted suicide where it is legal. Arguments about equity are well-intentioned, but Sen. Eaton could potentially expand eligibility.
For example, if someone with six months to live can choose assisted suicide, why can't someone with nine months to live choose this option? What about those who are not able to self-ingest the pills or those with non-terminal diseases? It is easy to imagine where this can lead.
I agree with Sen. Eaton that the day will come when you or your loved one will need care at the end of life. I part ways with her on what that actual care looks like. Please ask your legislator to vote against this assisted suicide bill and to support expanded access to and clinical training for hospice and palliative care.
Steve Bergeson is a physician and a member of the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare.