People impacted by terminal illness discuss MN End-of-Life Options Act prior to committee hearing

January 29, 2024

Bill modeled after those authorized in 10 states and D.C. would empower patients to be able to make decisions about their own care at the end of life

Nearly 30 years ago Oregon passed the nation’s first law allowing mentally capable terminally ill adults to have the end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying to peacefully end unbearable suffering. Today, more than one in five people in the U.S. — 22% — live in a jurisdiction where medical aid in dying is authorized, including ten states and the District of Columbia.

Legislation that would establish an end-of-life option for terminally ill adults in Minnesota is being heard in the Minnesota House of Representatives Health Finance and Policy Committee today (Thursday, January 25).

Advocates whose lives have been impacted by terminal illness gathered today at the State Capitol to discuss support for the legislation.

The bill is modeled after the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. It requires that the individual be at least 18 years old, mentally capable, and diagnosed with a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less to live. The individual must make one oral request and one written request to the attending health care provider and one oral request to another consulting health care provider. The individual must self-administer the medication to be prescribed.

No one – no patient, doctor, nurse, or pharmacist – would be required to participate. Health care facilities can opt out and would be required to post their policy on their website.

Data shows that end-of-life options are used judiciously. In decades of experience across all the authorized states, only 5,171 individuals have chosen to use medical aid in dying.

Nancy Uden of Hamel was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a very aggressive form of malignant brain cancer in late 2022. There is no cure for this type of cancer and Nancy has endured surgery, radiation treatment, and aggressive targeted chemotherapy. Doctors have given her a prognosis of 15 months and she’s currently 12 months in from diagnosis and initial treatment.

“While I’ve always supported the idea of dying on one’s own terms, it is now very real to me personally. And urgent. I don’t have time for long debates. This bill has been in front of the Minnesota legislature for 10 years already. It is time to act,” Nancy said. “As I imagine the end of my life, I would like to be able to say my goodbyes and go peacefully. I’m thankful that we have hospice as an option at the end of life and I will use it for the maximum comfort I can attain. But in the end, I want the option to die gently in my sleep, surrounded by my lovely family who is here today to show their support for me and this bill.”

Jeff McComas hiking with his family and his dog

McComas Family

Jeff McComas of Woodbury was diagnosed with metastatic cancer of the small intestine in January 2023. Frustrated that Minnesota does not yet have the option of medical aid in dying, Jeff is advocating that a bill be passed soon.

Jeff says he is grateful for the care he has received from the Mayo Clinic and Minnesota Oncology for helping him maximize and optimize the time he has left. After an initial prognosis of one year, with chemotherapy every 2 weeks, Jeff’s most recent prognosis has him living well into 2025.

“I had never really thought about medical aid in dying before I got sick. But since my diagnosis, it has become personal, and I am frustrated by the fact that Minnesota does not allow terminally ill people like me the option of a peaceful death. This isn’t a new idea. Ten states already allow it with some for more than two decades,” Jeff said. “This is not a partisan issue. I’m a lifelong Republican, and most of my Republican friends agree with my position. Every one of us is going to die, so we all have a stake in the outcome. I’m not here to convince anybody that my way of thinking is more right than theirs. I just want the freedom to decide for myself without the government interfering.”

Dr. Joanne Roberts retired in Minnesota after practicing palliative medicine in Washington State for 30 years. She opposed the Washington Death with Dignity Act when it was on the ballot in Washington State in 2008 but has since become an advocate for end-of-life options.

“I now am living with my own terminal disease, and it is likely my suffering will be brief and manageable with hospice care,” said Dr. Roberts. “But, as a person who has death on my horizon, and having seen the law play out in other states, I should be able to make my own end-of-life choices and Minnesotans should not be denied this safe and well-tested option.”

Strong support among Minnesotans

Results from the most recent annual Minnesota House of Representatives poll at the State Fair found that nearly three-quarters of respondents support allowing Minnesotans the end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying to peacefully end unbearable suffering.

The State Fair poll included this question: Should terminally ill adults have the option to end their lives with the assistance of health care providers?

Yes — 73.2% (5,844)

No — 18.2% (1,456)

Undecided/No Opinion — 8.6% (686)

Those results are an increase in support from the last time a similar question was posed to Fairgoers in 2016. That year, 67% supported the measure. A scientifically conducted survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in 2016 found 73% of Minnesotans support the measure.

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