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Attempt to legalize assisted suicide in Minnesota withdrawn after Senate hearing

Mar 21, 2016

An effort to legalize assisted suicide in Minnesota appears to be dead after the bill’s author withdrew her legislation March 16. More than two hours of public testimony on S.F. 1880 included 17 physicians, nurses, attorneys and members of the disability community who warned of the grave dangers assisted suicide poses to vulnerable members of society. At the end of the hearing, lead author Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, withdrew the bill before committee members could vote. A vote would very likely have killed the bill.

More than 100 people opposed to the bill attended its first hearing today, wearing red “No Assisted Suicide” stickers. Minnesotans Against Assisted Suicide (MNAAS) and many of its supporters submitted written testimony to the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing committee, which took up the bill. The bill has not been heard in the House.

Medical professionals argued in favor of compassion and care for those facing illness and disability.

“We have an obligation to the terminally ill and their loved ones. But this bill will not help that cause,” said Dr. Thomas Nobrega, a St. Paul cardiologist. “This bill is about giving a patient the means to die by a drug overdose. It creates an irreconcilable conflict between the doctor as a compassionate guide and healer, and the motivation to expedite death.”

As a family physician and county coroner, Dr. James Joyce has seen the “ravages” of suicide but also the gratitude of those he has helped overcome the desire to end their lives. Legal assisted suicide would severely damage the doctor-patient relationship, he said. “If they can’t trust us, we can’t help them.”

Kathy Ware, a registered nurse, is a disability advocate and mother of a disabled son, Kylen. She spoke passionately about the need to protect and defend persons with disabilities. “People wouldn’t pursue assisted suicide if they had the help and care they needed for their loved one,” she declared. “We in the disability community are not asking for pity. We want help and we want to be treated with value.”

A woman suffering from terminal cancer and brain disease begged the committee members not to legalize assisted suicide. Elizabeth Bakewicz said persons with severe illnesses must be treated with dignity and not as burdens. “Under this bill I am treated as nothing but a list of burdens. But I am a human being,” she said.

Neil Helgeson, the board president of The Arc Minnesota, a disability rights organization, and the father of a 23-year-old son with disabilities, explained that persons dealing with disabilities generally enjoy life, but that society projects onto them a poor quality of life. “This places their lives at extraordinary risk,” Helgeson said. “Senate File 1880 poses a grave threat to individuals with disabilities.”

The hearing and Sen. Eaton’s withdrawal of the legislation is a victory for those with disabilities and serious illnesses, the elderly and all those who care for them, opponents said.

MNAAS is a statewide coalition of organizations, professionals and individuals who oppose the legislation introduced in the 2015 Minnesota Legislature to legalize assisted suicide.

Officials with the Minnesota Catholic Conference hailed the result. "Yesterday proved that we are capable of withstanding the dangerous push to legalize physician-assisted suicide in our state," the conference stated in a mass email. "Thank you for your important contribution to this victory; we hope you'll continue to be a powerful voice for life and dignity in Minnesota."

However, they warned that the effort to legalize assisted suicide is not over. The conference --- the public policy voice of the Catholic bishops in Minnesota --- urged the faithful to stay informed on the issue, to encourage friends to join its Catholic Advocacy Network and to pray for elected officials.

— The Northern Cross