COMMENTARY: Additional Work to Be Done in Bodily Autonomy

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Nancy Uden and her husband

Death can be an uncomfortable topic for many people. We don’t want to think about the end of life and losing what we cherish most: beautiful experiences, laughter, love, connection, and countless other facets of life. However, death is one of the few absolutes for every living being.

Some of us gain the unfortunate knowledge that death is coming, no matter how hopeful and full of life we may be.

On November 30, 2022, on the way home from the grocery store, I had a car accident. I remember hearing the crash, and getting out of my car to check the damage. I took a picture of the back of the other car and struggled to get my pen to write my phone number on the insurance card to give it to the other female driver. She said she had called the police, so I got back in my car to wait.

That’s the last thing I remember for over 24 hours.

I woke up at the hospital. An MRI scan showed a tumor. The neurologist thought it was benign and suggested we take the “wait and watch” approach, but I wanted this thing out. I went to the Mayo Clinic where a neurosurgeon strongly suspected I had an aggressive, terminal brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme. After removing the tumor, the diagnosis was confirmed.

There is no cure for my form of cancer. I have endured surgery, radiation treatment, and aggressive, targeted chemotherapy. And I’ll continue as long as the cancer can be kept at bay. But even with treatment, my prognosis is grim. Fifteen months, at best, and I’m already 13 months into that prognosis.

I try to live life like I’m living with cancer, not dying from cancer, but it’s always in the back of my mind. I promised myself and my loved ones that I would endure treatment for this disease until there is no hope left and my death is inevitable.

I’m thankful that I have hospice as an option at the end of my 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 loved ones.

The Minnesota End-of-Life Options Act would allow mentally capable adults who have a terminal illness and six months or less to live to obtain a prescription for medication they can self-ingest to end their suffering.

The proposed legislation is, ultimately, an option. People who would qualify for medical aid in dying can opt not to utilize the option if it is not right for them. Medical providers who do not want to take part can decide not to. There is an option to change your mind every step of the way. However, the way that anybody feels about this care option should not dictate or limit the healthcare decisions I make about my own body.

Minnesota lawmakers rightfully passed laws in 2023 protecting reproductive rights and gender-affirming care. But I beseech my fellow bodily autonomy warriors: our work is not done. We need to make sure lawmakers prioritize bodily autonomy at the end of life, too.

Nearly ten years ago, Minnesota lawmakers first introduced the End-of-Life Options Act. Terminally ill advocates and their loved ones are still fighting to get this legislation passed. So many Minnesotans have died waiting and advocating for medical aid in dying.

Medical aid in dying is currently authorized in 10 states and Washington, D.C. The 25 years of data and authentic stories of people throughout the country who have gone on this journey with their loved ones affirm that medical aid in dying is a compassionate end-of-life care option.

I was recently diagnosed with another tumor and entered an immunotherapy clinical trial. Passing this bill is urgent to me; I am running out of time.

Dying Minnesotans like me should be allowed to make healthcare decisions about our own bodies. But a minority of vocal opponents are trying to hold up this bill’s progress, despite nearly 75 percent approval from fellow Minnesotans in a State Fair poll.

The House Health Finance and Policy Committee voted yes on the bill in January — the first time the legislation has been voted on by Minnesota lawmakers following nearly a decade of work by advocates. Four Minnesota House committees have now considered the legislation this year and moved it forward.

To help lawmakers understand the importance of bodily autonomy at every stage of life, can you reach out to contact Gov. Tim Walz and lawmakers today?

Nancy Uden lives in Corcoran with her husband Jim and is advocating for the option of medical aid in dying in Minnesota.  

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