Lawmakers will hear disputed assisted suicide bill

Published 8:25 am Wednesday, September 11, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — A woman with terminal cancer will tell her story Wednesday before a Minnesota House committee considering a bill that would allow adults with less than six months to live to obtain medication to end their lives on their own terms.

The bill is patterned after an Oregon law that has been in effect for over 20 years and has spread to seven other states plus the District of Columbia. A court ruling last month made New Jersey the latest state. Advocates say New York could soon follow suit, although a bill there failed to pass this year. But the idea faces tough opposition from the Catholic Church and allied groups that see the practice as a violation of the sanctity of life. The medical community is divided.

Marianne Turnbull, 61, of St. Paul, has been living with stage IV ovarian cancer since 2015. She said she plans to tell lawmakers that she wants to live as long as she can, but also that she wants the right to choose a peaceful death instead of enduring prolonged suffering.

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“I don’t know if I would even use the medicine, but it would reduce my anxiety by so much if I just knew there was an option,” Turnbull said. “I’d really rather not spend the last time that I have in major medical care.”

Turnbull has already gone through two major surgeries and 12 rounds of chemotherapy. The retired clinical social worker for the St. Paul Public Schools system is hopeful about getting into an experimental clinical trial. But she also knows that the five-year survival rate is low at her advanced stage.

“I’m in year four,” she said.

Also testifying will be Barbara Coombs Lee, who helped draft Oregon’s law in the 1990s. She said it has led to a major improvement in end-of-life care there, while fears about abuse and coercion have not come true. A third of the patients who obtain the drugs die without choosing to use them, she said.