Man who advocated for ‘death with dignity’ law in MN dies

(Video link)

Malcolm McDonald, 81, died on Christmas Day, the Austin Daily Herald says. He wanted to die on his own terms, but Minnesota has other ideas on this sort of thing.

McDonald, of Austin, Minn., advocated for a “death with dignity” law in Minnesota after he was diagnosed with lung cancer last summer. The law would have allowed the administering of medication to end his life.

“I’ve got a wife and a son for whom I see no reason for them to go through a time when I am miserable to myself and miserable to them,” he told the Austin Daily Herald earlier this month. “It’s selfish, I admit. But we are living in a country whose most basic thought is freedom of the individual and not making decisions that other people have to live by. I want to make my own choice.”

Earlier, he’d sent a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton looking for some political support for the legislation.

” I have asked my primary physician to recommend one of the above states where I would have the freedom to pursue my desire to use laws that provide for dying with dignity. Can your office provide information and guidance regarding this topic so that I, a resident of Minnesota, can . take advantage of the freedoms these laws provide to individuals so they and their families can avoid the experiences that they can anticipate are coming and that others who have passed away have experienced in the past.”

A few bills to allow “death with dignity” have been introduced at the Legislature and were quickly sent off to die. There’s no indication the fate of a similar bill will be any different in the upcoming session, should it appear.

McDonald said he wanted to “die well.” His death came at the Mayo Clinic Health System Hospital – Austin.

(h/t: Jennifer Ehrlich)

  • Robert Moffitt

    Most of us will have about as much say on how we die as we did on how we were born.

    • MikeB

      But it shouldn’t be that way. Who should have the right to how/when I die more than myself?

      • Robert Moffitt

        I agree, but the law (and medical profession) doesn’t. Strange that it is considered “humane” to euthanize a dog or cat with a painful and untreatable condition, but we have to watch our spouses or parents in agony for months or even years.

  • Mike

    We need a Jessica Mitford of the 21st century to write a muckraking exposé about the indignities the dying are subjected to by the medical, nursing home, and pharmaceutical industries. My hunch is that, along with conservative religious lobbies, it’s big money from these players that prevents the enactment of humane laws to allow people to die on their own terms.

    But there’s always hope. Twenty years ago it would have been hard to believe that several states would decriminalize marijuana. Maybe others will follow Oregon’s lead on the death-with-dignity issue.

    Of course, Minnesota is at the forefront of none of these issues. Perhaps we should stop patting ourselves on the back for being so progressive and start to look around.

  • Rob

    State opposition to right to die laws is essentially another example of the “life is cheap” phenomenon.

    • Mike

      I get your point, but I’d say the actions of the lobbies that prevent death with dignity are more about making the end of life as expensive as possible. They’re dedicated to ensuring that all terminally ill patients are turned upside down and shaken by the ankles for every last coin in their pockets.

  • kennedy

    In addition to dignity, there are financial considerations. Keeping a terminally ill person alive typically requires a lot of expensive resources. Giving a doctor or hospital the right/responsibility to keep someone alive also gives them the right/responsibility to spend all of the patient’s money on medical care. Should patients have the right to refuse expensive end of life care and instead choose other humane options?

  • Zachary

    It’s weird how we have advocates for suicide at the same time we are trying to lower the suicide rates.

    • Can’t speak for the “we” you’re referencing but I do think people confuse “lowering the suicide rate”with “providing access to mental health care.”

      Mental health care is not much of an issue in this case, near as I can tell and people who want a “death with dignity” law are not choosing between dying and not dying.

      • Zachary

        We as in We as a society. There are people who say it’s ok for Dementia addled Grandpa to off himself, but if you’re a bullied teen – then call this hotline.
        It’s about semantics – Death with Dignity is still Suicide.

        • Yeah, killing yourself is still killing yourself.

          Society has a difficult time with complicated things so it creates this black/white “suicide bad in all cases” dynamic.

          And, of course, most of that comes from this notion as fact that there’s a god who’s in charge of all of this.

          • Zachary

            I am 100% opposed to suicide. If you don’t have the right to take another’s life, then why should you have the right to take your own?
            Wrap it up in a bow with a party, or bleed slowly into your bathtub – it’s still wrong. On so many levels.

            I do believe there is a God in charge of all of this, perhaps this influences my view (and it does), but it still comes down to the fundamental question – how can it be good this way, but bad that way, when it is the same action/result?

            I firmly believe that there is no “gray area” when it comes to this. Except in the cases of the people who commit murder/suicide. I would rather you just got to the “suicide” part before you hit the “murder” part.

          • // good this way, but bad that way, when it is the same action/result?

            How can death by withering away, losing your dignity, bankrupting your family be considered a “good death” and taking medication to die on your own terms be a “bad death”?

            I understand the “one size fits all” mentality of ethical questions, but, then again, I don’t necessarily believe suicide is an illogical choice in matters of severe pain and the absolute non-existence of hope.

            I also don’t believe that there’s a magical place after you die. This is it.

          • Zachary

            I’m going to start applying pop-culture references here, but bear with me.

            There is a great Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where special guest star David Ogden Stiers plays a genius scientist who has developed a method of saving his planet, but he is nearing the age where it’s customary to ritually kill himself. Plus, he has fallen in love with Troi’s mother. If he dies, there is no one with the knowledge/experience to continue his research, but if he doesn’t he shames his culture/family.

            After watching the slow death of my maternal grandfather from Alzheimer’s/related issues, and seeing the toll it took on my mother and my grandmother, there were times where I felt it would be better to pull the plug on him. In some cases, I feel that is an acceptable solution. But at the same time – how do we go about defining when someone is at that stage? Are we there when we have “outlived our usefulness”? (there is a Twilight Zone episode about that!) How about those stories about people making recoveries? How much longer do people live after being told “you have x months to live?” Stephen Hawking was given something like 2 years to live after his diagnosis. Would we (society) be “better off” if he had popped some pills at month 23?

            Does the “pain and suffering” also extend to that bullied teenager? “Life is Pain – if anyone tells you otherwise, they are selling something.” (The Princess Bride). Is pain and suffering treatable for some but not for others? We mourn regardless. Life is always preferable over Death. If you truly believe that this is it, then why would you want to end it sooner than it needs be?

            You and I may not ultimate come to an agreement on this subject Bob, but it’s been an interesting conversation. I can and do see where you are coming from (see above about my Grandfather), and can empathize on your point of view, but I really believe that the act of deliberately taking your own life is morally wrong.

          • / Is pain and suffering treatable for some but not for others?


            //If you truly believe that this is it, then why would you want to end it sooner than it needs be?

            I think the gentleman in this piece already answered that question. People who have lived a long time, and particularly those who are in possession of their faculties, usually describe life in terms of quality.

            Personally, I have ZERO interest in living to an advanced age, particularly if it comes at the expense of bankrupting my chidlren or losing the legacy I provided in my time on the planet, which is the only evidence, really, that we were ever really here.

            The gentleman in the post described “a good death.” It’s unclear why someone else should dictate what that involves any more than they should dictate what qualifies as “a good life.”

          • Zachary

            Well Bob, I think it’s very much clear we are not going to change each other’s minds or opinions on this subject, I have enjoyed sparring with you on this subject however, and want to make it clear that there are no hard feelings. I wish you and your family safe flights, and a very happy New Year.

          • Kassie

            “If you don’t have the right to take another’s life, then why should you have the right to take your own?”

            That doesn’t make much sense. I don’t have the right to eat your cookie, but I do have the right to eat my cookie. I don’t have the right to kill your cow, but I have the right to kill my cow. The difference of course is what is yours and what is mine. I can do what I want with what is mine, which includes my life and my body.

          • Zachary

            Does the ability to make decisions over one’s own life change? Does depressed 15-year-old you have any more right to take their own life, then 80-year-old you? I say it again, Suicide is Suicide. If we run into prevention mode when the voice on the other end of the hotline says “I want to kill myself”, yet when Grandpa says the same thing, we throw a party – who are we to determine the value of the life? If one variation is considered “honorable and noble” yet the other makes us run for the mental health professional, isn’t that a double standard? How can one be less tragic? You end up dead either way.

            If all lives have equal value (as NPR underwriter Gates Foundation says in their tagline) then my life is no more, nor no less valuable than yours. So why is ok for you to take yours, but not mine? Weighing things out equally, rights vs rights – life vs life, all things come out equal. The life of Kassie is Equal to the life of Zachary.

            If that is the case – as I believe it to be – I don’t have the right to take mine either. To do so would indicate an unbalance – mine is less than yours.

          • //y et when Grandpa says the same thing, we throw a party

            Let’s just try to be a little respectful here in the comments here, please. Let’s try to remember that a gentleman died here so let’s try to stay a little respectful about the issue he brought up, please. Emotional topic, for sure, but let’s not make light .

          • Zachary

            Sorry Bob. My intent was not to make light of it, but draw attention to how we treat the subject differently when it applies to two different groups of people.

          • There are no two groups of people. There are only individuals in this scenario. Each is different, just as each death is an individual experience. It’s a personal experience, not a shared one. Death cannot be reconciled with any other death. That’s its nature.

          • Zachary

            I would argue your point that death is an individual experience. As evidenced by this year – death is quite often shared. True – how one responds to death, is personal, and every death, while expected (we all die eventually) should be treated with respect. I mean no disrespect to anyone here, and their personal experiences with death. I, for one, choose to live. When death gets me, it gets me. I will not seek it out, nor would I encourage others to seek it out. Celebrate all life, morne all death. We cry, we laugh, we sometimes move on, we hope never to forget. It doesn’t make sense – being human sucks sometimes.

          • Responding to someone else’s death and dying are not the same thing.

            Nobody reading this experienced death this year; they only experienced the loss of someone else and felt a particular emotion. That’s not dying.

          • Zachary

            Thanks Bob – now I have that dialog from Wrath of Khan in my mind, something about how we respond to death is as important to how we respond to life.
            Aside from that – these are good points. Food for thought. I really don’t have anymore to add, and will be going offline for the weekend. I wish you a happy New Year. Remember folks – don’t drink and drive – get a sober ride home. Peace to all!

          • rallysocks

            // I, for one, choose to live. When death gets me, it gets me. I will not seek it out, nor would I encourage others to seek it out.

            Most people do choose to live–if the quality of life is there. My dad had multiple bouts with lung cancer. He was treated and survived for 13 years. During treatment there were some really crappy days, but for the most part, his life was really good.

            The last time the cancer came back, it was mistaken for something neurological. By the time they realized what was going on, the cancer had invaded his spinal column. At age 59 he was paralyzed from the waist down.

            In the meantime, there were some heart issues and medications for that. His world was shrinking pretty quickly and an infection from a bug bite landed him in the hospital.

            He was hoping for death to come sooner rather than later and he was ready to go spiritually. He was concerned for us–that we weren’t ready for him to go. But we were–he no longer was the man who grew us and encouraged us and made us laugh and spoiled us and gave us good advice. He was so frustrated by all the things he couldn’t do any longer.

            At this point, the only thing keeping him alive was his heart medication. We had to help him with just about every aspect of his care, and as a modest man, this was excruciating for him and not so swell for us. Bodies losing control of themselves is a messy, nasty experience. But we did it because we loved him and he had given us so much.

            We made the decision together that he would not continue with his heart medication. He died a day and a half later surrounded by his family. He was 60. His death was much more dignified than wasting away, cranked up on morphine and having no idea we were even there.

          • I think we all have happy thoughts of how our death will go. Our family will gather ’round. We will be lucid, impart some wisdom, and then, off we go.

            My dad had a stroke and was unable to communicate other than pointing “up” which the family assumed meant he wanted to die. There was no hope he would recover. So after some discussion, it was decided the hospital would withold sustenance and shoot him with morphine so — allegedly — he wouldn’t know. It was about 20 days later when he died.

            Occasionally, my mother wonders if she did the right thing.

            Making a living will. Or at least make your desires clear.

          • rallysocks

            Oh, that had to be agonizing! After a motorcycle accident, my youngest sibling was declared brain dead. Making the decision to take him off life support, while the obvious thing to do, was still horrific.

            I agree wholeheartedly with the living will. Your wishes are followed with no guilt on the part of your loved ones.

          • Mike

            Your point only make sense if you believe that someone’s life isn’t really his/her own, but rather yours or someone else’s to make decisions for.

            Keep your morality to yourself; I don’t want anything to do with it, and what I do with my life is none of your business. I’m sure that people dying of ALS, Parkinson’s, cancer, or some other horrible malady take comfort knowing that their suffering helps you preserve your sense of moral purity.

          • Zachary

            I have no sense of moral purity. I am a flawed human being, like everyone else. I am in favor of finding cures for said ailments and in ways to ease the suffering of those with them. The whole point I am trying to make here, is why is it “ok” for someone to take their own life, but not someone else to do so as well? (dying of alzheimer’s vs depression).

          • Asked and answered, Zach. You’re applying a one size fits all approach to an issue that decidedly isn’t. The problem is the conversation, as evidenced by the dead-on-arrival legislation, never gets to the point where such important questions can be discussed.

            Some things are just different because they are. That’s not an answer that satisfies people. But they are. A person with lung cancer, four months to live, and the certainty of a horrendous death is just different from another individual’s situation. How to reconcile that? I don’t know.

            We’re not likely to find out because people are too afraid and, for sure, political leaders, who specialize in being afraid, aren’t going to provide any clarity.

            But people are going to keep dying and the individual is going to have to evaluate the remaining options available.

          • Kassie

            Having the right to do something and it being an overall wise decision is different. I am all for helping people get help with mental illness, but that doesn’t take away their right to kill themselves if they want. I think if someone has a terminal diagnosis, then that isn’t mental illness. There is no way to “cure” them. They should be able to decide for themselves.

          • Zachary

            Don’t we use the question of “do you now or have you had suicidal thoughts or actions” as part of mental health screening?

  • Bradley Williams

    MN I take exception to the polling.
    I have found (serving 60 fair booth days) that about half of the public thinks they are in favor of such a law, that is until they learn about the flaws in the non transparent laws that create new paths of elder abuse with immunity. Once they learn that a predatory heir may steer the signup process and then forcibly administer the lethal dose without oversight, they all said, “I am not for that!”.
    Anyway all of these Oregon Model bills have the same flaws that eviscerate flaunted safe guards.
    For example how many times have you nodded your head when the proponents chanted that the lethal dose must be self-administered?
    Well, read the language of the law/bill and you will find that there is no means provided to assure that marketing point. For example “self-administrate” was mentioned 11 times in the 8 page Minnesota SF 1880 and yet there was no means provided to confirm that the lethal dose was forced on not, who would know if they struggled.
    In fact what is provided is that there may be no investigations allowed after the death (page 6 of 8 Subd. 12. In addition allowing a stranger that claims to know how the person communicates may speak for them eviscerates all the intended safeguards, page 1 of 8 (e).
    Along with allowing predatory heirs and staff to witness even as other family members are not required to be contact.

    This is a very dangerous public policy that by their own records in OR and WA is establishing poisoning as the “medical standard of care” for people that have “feelings” of fear of the loss of autonomy is poisoning.
    These bills put us all (all ages) at risk of exploitation by the medical complex, organ traffickers, predatory heirs and “new best friends”.

    • You would be opposed to a living will, then?

      • Bradley Williams

        Personally, living wills, advanced directives and POLST forms guide (coerce) the individual to address specifics that are arbitrary and not necessary or known. I advise people to get their medical POA established giving the POA the responsibility and authority to speak for you. The medical complex does not need to be tempted by specifics posted on your record. Then of course let your POA know that you are fine with their decisions so there is no guilty feelings established after the fact.

        • rallysocks

          //Personally, living wills, advanced directives and POLST forms guide (coerce) the individual to address specifics that are arbitrary and not necessary or known.

          Done right and with proper guidance, there is no coercion about it. You are simply stating what you do or do not want done should an incapacitating medical incident occur.

          • Bradley Williams

            For example if you where in an accident and needed resuscitation but you have “Do not resuscitate” posted on your now electronic record the first responders would back off and be hands off so they are not sued. Unnecessary. Not needed and relinquishing your “control” to the medical industrial complex.