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Assisted suicide in Minnesota? Critics point to Canada as cautionary tale

Reid Forgrave, Star Tribune on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS — Kathy Ware was on Instagram recently when she saw a story about Canada's medical assistance in dying law. It shook her.

"Alberta judge greenlights euthanasia for 27-year-old autistic woman DESPITE objections from her dad, who says she's healthy — just 'vulnerable' due to mental health problems," read the headline from the Daily Mail, a British tabloid.

Ware thought of her adult son, Kylen, whose disabilities render him nonverbal, barely mobile and dependent on round-the-clock care.

If Minnesota passes medical aid in dying legislation, she wondered, what might that mean for Kylen?

"What if I'm dead and gone and he has a public guardian?" Ware said. "And they decide the compassionate thing to do is just to let him die?"

For the 55-year-old South St. Paul woman, that headline confirmed her worst fears about Minnesota's proposed medical aid in dying legislation, which opponents call assisted suicide.

 

Many Minnesotans with terminal diseases have pleaded with legislators to pass the legislation quickly, calling it a simple matter of personal autonomy. The controversial law is unlikely to pass this session, legislators say. But similar bills have been proposed each legislative session for the past decade, and DFL leaders indicate they'll keep trying.

Proponents have testified about wanting a peaceful, healing death experience, surrounded by loved ones. For some, passage is urgent.

"As a terminally ill patient, I beg you to do something now," Nancy Uden, a 73-year-old Corcoran woman profiled in The Minneapolis Star Tribune last month, told a House committee. She told legislators of the slow, painful death that often comes with her devastating form of brain cancer: "I'm thankful we have hospice as an option. ... But if it's not enough in the end, I want the option to die gently and in my sleep."

Minnesota's proposed law limits medical aid in dying to terminally ill adults with a prognosis of less than six months to live. After determining patients mentally capable of making an informed health care decision, physicians would dispense life-ending medication, and patients would ingest it themselves. (In Canada, most of the medically assisted deaths are performed by a health care provider administering lethal injection.)

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