A bill to allow people the right to die by suicide in Minnesota was pulled in the face of opposition last evening, and there’s very little chance it’ll be back. The opposition is far too intense. The issue far too complex.
Left behind are significant questions, however. Does giving people with terminal illnesses the right to take their own life encourage people to help kill them? Does dying a “dignified” death take away from the dignity of their life? What is compassion?
Everyone has an opinion and everyone believes their opinion is right, which is why the testimony was so compelling.
“Doctors are wrong, medicine is not perfect and compassion comes in taking care of your fellow human beings — not in killing them,” Luba Hickey, a retired nurse from St. Paul, said.
“She died of very painful complications,” Sally Settle said, holding a picture of her mother, “after doctors could not keep her comfortable. … No Minnesotan should have to die in this fashion.”
Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, said she withdrew the bill from consideration because there were too many misunderstandings about it.
“It’s an alternative when [patients’] agony becomes unbearable,” she said.
Who gets to decide when the agony is unbearable? That’s the question for lawmakers who have a hard enough time with far simpler tasks in a typical legislative session.
In today’s Star Tribune story, opposition focused on hope in matters of a terminal diagnosis.
But Elizabeth Bakewicz said the measure “tells me I am a burden not worth bearing.” The 35-year-old recounted the pain and loss of dignity she felt after doctors diagnosed her with brain cancer and epilepsy — the seizures, the cocktail of medications, the loss of her dreams of being a public defender. They told her in 2009 that she had three to five years left.
“I’m no longer the independent, spirited lively girl I remember — and yes, some days I want to die,” said Bakewicz, her voice breaking. “We become better people when we bear each other’s burdens, not when we bury people because they are burdens.”
By the end of the evening, even the bill’s supporters had philosophical objections.
“I’m troubled by the fact that some people feel they’re a burden because of the expense,” said Marty, DFL-Roseville, who noted that some people still lack access to health care.
These are often academic questions in the political arena, but as the state’s residents grow older, “how we die” will merit significant conversations we’re unable to have now.
Does giving people with terminal illnesses the right to take their own life encourage people to help kill them? Does dying a “dignified” death take away from the dignity of their life? What is compassion?