While most of us would prefer to die at home surrounded by loved ones, most of us will die in institutions. A third of us will undergo surgery in our last month of life, and 10 percent of us will have surgery within a week of death. Thanks to medical advances, we live longer than at any other time in history. Most of us have already lived well past “natural death.”
Born of our experiences watching loved ones suffer at the end of life, a grassroots movement is growing to change the way we die in America.
Seven states — Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado, Hawaii — and the District of Columbia currently authorize the practice of medical aid in dying (MAiD). Modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, MAiD authorizes terminally ill individuals of sound mind to ask for and receive a prescription medication they self-administer for a peaceful death if and when their suffering becomes intolerable. While hospice does a tremendous job relieving suffering and supporting families, there are still times when individuals want another option, other than stopping eating and drinking.
MAiD is the hallmark of patient-centered care. Only the individual can decide whether the option is right for them. Some feel the law doesn’t go far enough, because it excludes people with dementia and because MAiD cannot be requested in a health care directive. The current form of the law, however, has been effective and well-accepted where it has become the law in the U.S.
The End-of-Life Options Act(SF 2286/HF 2152), introduced by Sen. Chris Eaton and Rep. Mike Freiberg, would authorize MAiD in Minnesota. It contains the same safeguards that have been proven effective elsewhere. Two physicians must confirm the diagnosis, and assure that patients are capable of making their own medical decisions and are acting free from coercion. Physicians must encourage terminally ill patients to seek hospice care before considering MAiD. Most individuals who choose MAiD suffer from end-stage cancer or a neurodegenerative disease like ALS. They do not want to die, but they are dying, have exhausted viable treatments, and have no hope of recovery. They simply want a final bit of control of the means and timing of an inevitable death.
A strong majority of Americans have supported MAiD (64-75 percent), even when the incorrect term “assisted suicide” is used. In 2016, a statewide survey found that a majority of Minnesotans (72 percent) in every demographic group (age, geography, political party, and religion) support MAiD. A Minnesota State Fair survey that same year confirmed a similar level of support (68 percent). Lawmakers, however, need to be convinced.
If you want the freedom to make end-of-life decisions according to your own values and beliefs, ask your state representatives to support SF 2286/HF 2152. You can find out who represents you and link to their email at gis.leg.mn. Track bills at revisor.mn.gov.