Bill to legalize assisted suicide receives Senate committee hearing

Legislation would authorize lethal prescriptions, threaten the most vulnerable members of society

Minnesota State Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center

Minnesota State Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center

ST. PAUL, MN — A state Senate committee yesterday heard about a new bill to legalize assisted suicide in Minnesota. The legislation is riddled with problems and would threaten the lives of the most vulnerable members of society.

S.F. 1880, authored by Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, would authorize a physician to prescribe a lethal drug for a patient to intentionally take his or her own life. The March 23 hearing in the Health, Human Services and Housing committee was merely informative and no vote was taken. Dozens of citizens at the hearing wore “No Assisted Suicide” stickers to show their opposition to the measure.

“This bill opens the door to various kinds of coercion and abuse,” said Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). “No witness is required at the death. There are no safeguards whatsoever once the lethal drug has been dispensed.” In Oregon, 40 percent of assisted suicide victims have expressed concern about being a “burden” on family and friends. In Washington, 61 percent of victims in 2013 expressed the same worry.

The committee heard testimony from David Grube, a retired practitioner of assisted suicide in Oregon and medical director for Compassion and Choices, the nation’s leading advocate and facilitator of assisted suicide. The organization is the successor to the Hemlock Society, founded by notorious euthanasia activist Derek Humphry. No disability rights advocates or other opponents of the bill were allowed to speak at the hearing.

S.F. 1880 does not require that a patient undergo psychiatric evaluation before receiving the lethal prescription. “This legislation would lead to the death of some patients who would want to live if given proper mental health care,” explained Fischbach. “Suffering and depressed people deserve treatment and care, not killing.”

The proposed legislation relies on correctly diagnosing that a patient has less than six months to live. But such predictions are inexact and often mistaken. “S.F. 1880 would encourage patients who would live for weeks, months, years or even decades to throw their lives away,” noted Fischbach.

Testifiers suggested that suicide may be necessary to alleviate pain and suffering, but concern about pain is not a major reason cited by those who commit suicide in Oregon or Washington—the primary concerns involve disability (“losing autonomy,” etc.). “We must reject the discriminatory idea that the lives of the disabled, sick and elderly are worth less than the lives of everyone else,” said Fischbach. “Everyone deserves support and care, including the best palliative and hospice care. Killing is not the solution.”

Proponents of the bill said they plan to hold a series of meetings across the state in which Minnesotans can voice their opinions on the issue. “We should take this opportunity to make clear that Minnesota does not want assisted suicide, and to make clear the many ways in which it would threaten the vulnerable,” Fischbach concluded.