The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of us to develop a deeper understanding of the fragility of our lives, the tragedy of people dying alone without the care and comfort of loved ones, and the limits of modern medicine to relieve suffering at life's end.
Terminally ill Minnesotans already live with a keen sense of their own mortality. They know that despite life-extending treatments, at some point they will have to face the inevitable, and it is long past time to give them the options they need to face death on their own terms.
That's why I am proud to once again sponsor the End of Life Option Act, along with my colleague in the House, Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley.
This bill would give mentally capable, terminally ill adult Minnesota residents with six months or less to live the option to request a doctor's prescription for medication they could choose to take if their suffering becomes unbearable and they wish to die peacefully in their sleep. Nine states and Washington, D.C., representing more than one-fifth of our nation's population, have already authorized medical aid in dying and have a combined 50 years of experience successfully implementing this medical practice.
I first introduced this legislation in 2015. Each year, I hear from Minnesotans who testify passionately in support of medical aid in dying, including doctors and nurses, religious leaders, family members of deceased loved ones who suffered badly at life's end, and people with life-threatening or terminal diseases who want this option.
What they all have in common is their desire to ease suffering at the end of life and their frustration that medical aid in dying is still not available in our state.
Medical aid in dying is chosen mostly by those suffering from terminal cancer or neurological disorders like ALS who are receiving hospice care but choose to shorten the dying process to avoid what they consider unnecessary suffering. The data shows that even when it's available, only a small percentage of terminally ill people actually utilize medical aid in dying. But many more are comforted simply knowing the option is available.
Support for this bill is strong. In 2016 polling, 73% of Minnesotans in all major political parties, all religious affiliations and all geographic regions agreed that medical aid in dying should be a legal option for terminally ill individuals, including 55% who strongly believed so.
This legislation respects the values of Minnesotans who oppose medical aid in dying by making participation in it, by patients and health care providers, 100% voluntary.
With years of study and experience, the bill is modeled after other successful laws with checks and balances to protect patients without creating needless regulatory roadblocks. Safeguards include assessment by two physicians or advance practice nurses, requiring the terminally ill person to self-ingest the medication and to request the medication three times, including once in writing, to ensure the requests are voluntary. Providers must discuss all alternatives with the patient, including hospice and provide a referral to hospice if requested. The medical provider must ensure that the patient has full decisionmaking capacity as is free from undue influence. Coercing the patient to use medical aid in dying is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The day may come when you or a loved one will opt for medical aid in dying. Make sure this is an option for you by contacting your state legislator today. A change in policy doesn't happen unless the public demands the change.
Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.