Minnesota needs death-with-dignity laws

The topic of death may still be too taboo to discuss, but states should recognize compassion.

by Keelia Moeller

Twenty-nine-year-old Brittany Maynard recently took control of her life by deciding when to end it. She’s spending her last days as an advocate for Death-With-Dignity, a nonprofit advocacy group from Oregon.

In the weeks following her wedding, Maynard began experiencing debilitating headaches. Upon a visit to the doctor, she was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Seventy days after the original diagnosis, doctors discovered that Maynard had stage 4 Glioblastoma multiforme, a serious brain tumor. She had six months to live. Maynard knew her symptoms would include violent seizures, memory loss, speech difficulties and loss of vision.

Following Maynard’s diagnosis, her family chose to move to Oregon to access the state’s Death with Dignity Act. Oregon is one of five states that prescribe lethal medications to terminal patients who qualify for it.

It’s tragic that those suffering from terminal illnesses do not have this option in 45 of our 50 other states.

I have witnessed the way cancer progressively breaks down the human body. Both my father and grandfather suffered from terminal cancer. I can assure you it is an undignified way to die. By the end, both of these beloved men looked and acted nothing like the strong and perseverant people I knew so well.

Cancer robbed them of their dignity, their strength, their lucidity and their ability to control their bodies.

Giving my father or grandfather the option of physician-assisted suicide would have spared them the pain and suffering they experienced. However, Minnesota’s current laws punish physicians that prescribe any medication leading to suicide.

So late into my family members’ illnesses, it wasn’t feasible for us to move to a state where physician-assisted suicide was possible, nor was it realistic for our family to relocate and change jobs.

My experience made me realize that it’s time for Minnesota to adopt the merciful practice of physician-assisted suicide. Supporting right-to-die groups such as the Final Exit Network or calling your Minnesota state representatives are ways to urge politicians to address this issue.

Some fear that euthanasia manipulates the personal rights of the terminally ill. However, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act resulted in 122 patients obtaining lethal medication but only 71 using this prescription to end their lives. The choice to use the prescribed medication is the patient’s choice alone.

American culture has taught many to hide their problems from immediate sight. We place terminal patients in hospices or keep the elderly in nursing homes and pretend this is morally acceptable.

Those who advocate for death with dignity choose to realistically address the issues of terminal illness and euthanasia. The process of dying is an ugly truth, but it will happen to all of us. Giving the option of a more dignified death to the terminally ill is an issue that ought to be brought to light in Minnesota.