Assisted suicide is one of the most contentious issues for Minnesotans with disabilities and their loved ones. We’ve had many emotional hearings over the years, with testimony for and against legislation that would allow the practice.
And here we go again. In February, Minnesota lawmakers introduced the End-of-Life Option Act Senate File 1813/House File 1930. If passed and signed into law, this would allow Minnesotans what is called the ability to “access medical aid in dying.”
We at Access Press respect the arguments of those who wish to have the right to die with dignity, and relieve suffering. Minnesota doesn’t allow the practice of assisted suicide now. People must either make that kind of end-of-life decision and take steps outside of the law, or travel someplace where assisted suicide is allowed. We understand all too well the desire of some people to die on their own terms and to leave this earth with dignity.
It’s concerning on one level that someone cannot work with their doctor to make an informed choice about assisted suicide. In many states physicians and other medical professionals can be prosecuted for helping a patient die at their request.
But suicide as a matter of public policy can be fraught with problems for those of us who live with disabilities. Any attempt at legislation in Minnesota must keep us and our rights at top of mind.
We people with disabilities must look at assisted suicide in many contexts. We know it’s an issue that there is not unanimous community support or opposition to.
It is an issue with many nuances that must be considered. Our history must be considered and respected. We are wary of past historic trends such as efforts to create a “master race” and only let the strong survive. One example is that disabled infants were considered not worthy of living. It was only in the late 19th century that infant incubators were even invented. Widespread use only began in the 20th century when such devices were used at county fairs and amusement parks as a novelty or freak show. See the tiny babies kept alive!
The assisted suicide issue also ties into the current staffing shortages and catastrophic situation with many of us unable to hire and retain caregivers. Too many of us in recent years have had our disabilities and related health conditions exacerbated due to inconsistent care or lack of care. What if someone with power of attorney over someone with a disability decided that the disabled person is too much of a bother?
Any measure enacted into law needs to protect us, especially those of us who cannot speak for ourselves. We already deal with the stereotype of being nuisances or drains on society and resources. How easy it would be if some of us were not here. Those of us who grew up labeled as problems or burdens are rightfully wary of this.
What does assisted suicide do in the context of our legal rights to self-determination and life choice for ourselves? That is a huge question that must be answered before any legislation is signed into law.
Legally, physician-assisted suicide differs from euthanasia. Euthanasia is defined as the act of assisting people with their death in order to end their suffering, but without the backing of a controlling legal authority. We worry that it’s all too easy to confuse the two.
Disability community members’ opposition to assisted suicide also stems in part from factors that surround the practice of assisted suicide. There’s way too much secrecy for our tastes, even in states where it is legal.
Assisted suicide, if it becomes legal in Minnesota, needs very strong oversight. We need to know who is using this option in the states where it is currently legal. We need to know the history of abuse and potential abuse, and how that can be avoided in Minnesota.
Frankly, some legal models may be better for us than others are. Is it better to allow assisted suicide by law, as it is in eight states and the District of Columbia? Or should we be looking at Montana and California, where the courts must make a ruling based on set terms to allow an assisted suicide to move ahead.
Everything needs to be explored carefully, especially with a health care system that is so profit-drive and so stressed in many ways. And we people with disabilities need extensive involvement before anything is signed into law in Minnesota.