Hundreds pack hearing on ‘End-of-Life Options Act’

| September 13, 2019 | 0 Comments

Imam Asad Zaman expressed several concerns about a bill that would allow health care providers to prescribe lethal drugs to people deemed terminally ill. Among them is the need to maintain — and not undermine — the basic moral norm of defending life, the executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota in St. Paul told a legislative committee Sept. 11.

“One institutional safeguard we have placed as a society across religions, across cultural norms, across national origins, is to say every life is dignified, every life is important, every life needs to be defended,” he said.

“I am very worried as a faith practitioner as to what happens in a society when that door gets opened. And I’m worried about a second door being opened, which is we want to interact with doctors on the basis of saving and preserving lives, not on the basis of hastening or enabling death.”

Zaman was among nearly two dozen people who testified at a three-hour information hearing at the State Office Building in St. Paul on a bill titled the “End-of-Life Options Act.”

More than 200 people packed one room and an overflow room at the hearing before the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee. The committee could advance the proposal when the Legislature convenes in February.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have approved medically assisted suicide. Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, is the chief sponsor of the bill.

“These are not people who want to die,” Freiberg told the committee. “These are people who are dying.”

But advocates for the disabled, people who have experienced consequences of similar legislation in other states, and leaders of faith communities including the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, testified or offered written testimony in opposition to the proposal. Many also were present at the hearing.

Concerns about the bill include its provision that a person who wants a lethal prescription must have been given six months to live. It’s impossible to know how long someone will live, opponents argued.

The bill does not require a witness to a death, which opens the door to abuse and coercion, and the death certificate wouldn’t list suicide or homicide as the cause of death, but the underlying illness, which would be fraudulent, opponents argued.

One person at the hearing, Stephanie Packer from California, where medical aid in dying is legal, described being told by an insurance company that it would no longer cover several of her expensive medications for her pulmonary fibrosis, a result of diffuse scleroderma. She asked what the assisted suicide drug would cost and was told her copay would be $1.20.

The insurance company was denying coverage for care that would help her but cost thousands of dollars, but it was ready to cover less expensive drugs that would kill her, she said.

“I can’t even begin to tell you what that is and what it feels like,” Packer said.

Another person at the hearing, Dr. Brian Callister, traveled from northern Nevada to argue against the proposal. He, too, cited experience with insurance companies. Two patients he worked with — one from California and one from Oregon, where doctor-assisted suicide also is legal — were denied life-saving treatment by medical directors of insurance companies who at the same time brought up the option of assisted suicide, Callister said.

“It’s not legal here,” Callister said he told them. “Well, it’s legal here,” came the replies.

Callister said he brought up the experience among his colleagues, who were alarmingly resigned and unsurprised. Doctors are beginning to feel defeated, he told the committee.

“We’re going to move toward the cheapest treatment,” he said. “And the cheapest treatment will be medicine that will kill you.”

One opponent to the legislation quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching on suicide: “It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nations, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. It is contrary to love for the living God.”

The MCC, a member of the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, placed an alert to the hearing on its website at mncatholic.org, and asked people to tell their legislators to oppose the bill. The alliance, a coalition of more than 40 organizations representing the medical field, people with disabilities, medical ethicists, elder-care workers and faith-based organizations, also is tracking the issue, and updates can be found at its website, ethicalcaremn.org.

The MCC also sent an action alert to thousands of laity, religious and clergy members of its Catholic Advocacy Network.
The conference has raised several objections to the proposal, saying it would:

— Endanger the poor, the elderly, and vulnerable adults through lack of appropriate safeguards.

— Allow non-physicians to prescribe death-inducing drugs.

— Not require patients to be residents of Minnesota, which would fuel suicide tourism.

— Require all doctors who assist people with terminal conditions to advise the patient that assisted suicide is a treatment option, distorting the role of health care professionals as healers who seek to “do no harm,” and undermining the trust between doctor and patient.

— Coerce health care professionals and provider organizations to participate in the assisted suicide process.

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