By Chris Haring

Minnesota aid-in-dying advocates are hoping that the state’s upcoming legislative session will include approval of the proposed End-of-Life Options Act.

A Minnesota woman is hoping her husband’s dying wish might be fulfilled, albeit posthumously: Ellen Kennedy says her late spouse’s final request was that, unlike him, others would have the choice to avoid unnecessary, prolonged suffering at the end of life.

A husband’s dying request leads his widow to right-to-die advocacy

Leigh Lawton’s battle with multiple myeloma, a relentless form of blood cancer, was marked by agonizing treatments and a desire for autonomy in his final moments, Kennedy told Dana Ferguson of MPR News. Now, Kennedy, the executive director of World Without Genocide, is urging lawmakers to pass the End-of-Life Options Act during Minnesota’s next legislative session.

As Ferguson explained to host Cathy Wurzer in a Sept. 7 segment, the proposed bill already has widespread support across the state: Sen. Kelly Morrison (D) has emerged as a key proponent, working tirelessly to secure a committee hearing for the bill early in the 2024 session. Meanwhile, a recent poll conducted during the Minnesota State Fair revealed an astonishing 73.2% of respondents support physician-assisted death.

Medical professionals and more support expanded end-of-life options

Alongside Sen. Morrison and regular Minnesotans, numerous doctors and medical professionals have also endorsed the proposal. Washington Dr. Joanne Roberts, who practiced palliative care, emphasized that aid-in-dying laws empower patients and foster more open and honest conversations between them and their physicians.

Another notable aspect of the proposed bill is its inclusivity. Unlike most aid-in-dying states, Minnesota’s proposal does not impose a residency requirement, so patients with terminal illnesses from elsewhere who meet the eligibility criteria could access this humane option, broadening its reach.

Ultimately, the End-of-Life Options Act could offer solace to countless individuals in Minnesota and nearby states grappling with terminal illnesses and provide the freedom to exercise autonomy in their final moments. With this bill, the state can join a growing number of its peers nationwide in recognizing the significance of choice and compassion at the end of life.

If you wish to join Death with Dignity’s efforts in Minnesota, please visit its page on our website, where you can learn more about the right-to-die movement’s history in the state and add your name to our petition.

Read the full article below:

(Disclaimer: As it appears in the following story, the term “assisted suicide” is problematic and inaccurate. Correct, appropriate terms include “medical aid in dying” or “physician-assisted dying/death.” Additionally, in jurisdictions with codified Death with Dignity laws, each specifies that medical aid in dying is, in fact, not suicide, nor a means to assist in suicide, so to call it otherwise is technically and legally inaccurate.)

Push begins in Minnesota to let terminally ill patients end their own lives

Dana Ferguson
Published:  September 7, 2023 11:50 AM

Ellen Kennedy is on a mission to fulfill her husband’s dying wish — to create options for terminally ill patients that he was denied.

Kennedy’s husband Leigh Lawton for years struggled with multiple myeloma — a form of blood cancer — before he died late last year. He underwent chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, emergency treatments and had toxic reactions to medications. 

And toward the end, Kennedy said, all he wanted was a medication that would end his life.

“One of the last wishes that my husband expressed was that I would advocate for this option for people who, unlike him, perhaps could choose this at the end of their lives,” Kennedy said. “This was an option that he deeply regretted he did not have. So it was his final request of me. And I felt an obligation to honor that dying wish.”

Kennedy is executive director of World Without Genocide, and ahead of the 2024 Minnesota legislative session she said she’ll urge lawmakers to pass the End-of-Life Options Act, which would make it legal for terminally ill, mentally capable adults to be prescribed and take a medication to end their life.

She joined doctors, chronically ill adults, people who’ve experienced the death of a loved one and others on Wednesday to talk about the proposal and begin campaigning for its approval in St. Paul.

Under the bill, a person would have to get a sign off from two health care providers verifying that they are terminally ill and have a prognosis of six months or less to live. They would also need to be found to be mentally capable of deciding they want to take the medication and not being coerced to take it.

There could then be a separate mental health assessment if either provider has doubts about a patient’s capacity to opt in. If a patient meets all the criteria, a physician could provide them the medication and the patient can choose to take it, ending their life.

Ten other states, along with Washington D.C. have enacted similar measures, and advocates hope Minnesota will become the eleventh.

The bill didn’t get a hearing this year as lawmakers focused on writing a two-year budget and approving a stack of policies that DFLers had been waiting years to get across the finish line.

 But the bill’s authors say they think 2024 will be the year to pass the proposal. Sen. Kelly Morrison, a Deephaven, Minn., Democrat, said she’s working to get the bill set for a committee hearing early in the legislative session and she’s trying to build bipartisan backing for it.

“There’s support for it across all demographic groups, and that includes political parties. So I’m reaching out to my Republican colleagues as well, their constituents want this bill to be passed into law. So I’m hopeful that this will end up being a bipartisan effort,” Morrison said.

Historically, the proposal has had stronger backing from legislative Democrats than Republicans. And with Democrats in control over the House, Senate and the governor’s office, it appears to have a path forward, as long as Morrison can win over her DFL colleagues or pick up a Republican or two to bridge the narrow gap in the Senate.

Some faith organizations and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life have opposed the bill in years past and say they’ll keep up their efforts to block it going into 2024. They said there needs to be a check-in with a mental health professional required as part of the assessment.

“It’s something that we’re going to try and inform more folks about what the dangers are, and why this is not a road that we should be going down. And we should be working to make sure that patients get all the care that they need, including palliative care and so forth. But that this is a dangerous direction,” said MCCL Communications Director Paul Stark.

The danger, Stark said, is that people who are depressed could choose to end their lives without seeing a psychiatrist or being fully evaluated. Supporters of the measure say that’s unlikely. 

The lawmakers and doctors who have supported the bill said it would help terminally ill patients to end their suffering. They also said that it can help start conversations between physicians and patients about end of life, which can be difficult.

Dr. Joanne Roberts practiced palliative care in Washington — a state that has had a similar law on the books for more than a decade— and she said it helped end the “conspiracy of silence” at the doctor’s office.

“We saw more patients bringing up the issue of end of life care with their doctors, because they felt empowered over the law,” she said. “So we had more conversations around end of life care, no matter what people chose.”

Lawmakers are set to return to St. Paul for the 2024 legislative session on Feb. 12. 

To read the full interview transcript, access the article here.