Our Sunday Visitor: Fighting the false ‘choice’ of physician assisted suicide in Minnesota

One of the many significant ethical battles the Church faces today is responding to an increased call for physician-assisted suicide, also known as physician-assisted killing. Jason Adkins, an attorney who serves as the executive director and general counsel of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, spoke with OSV News’ Charlie Camosy about effectively responding to this push, both in his state and on a national level.

Charlie Camosy: I’m in the process of writing a book for OSV Press which names our current moment as “on the brink” when it comes to physician-assisted killing (PAK). There are so many battlegrounds right now. One of the key ones was in Minnesota. Can you give us a bit of the recent history there and what happened with this legislative session?

Jason Adkins: Legislation to legalize physician-assisted suicide has been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature every year since 2015. Until this year, the bill, which mutates each cycle, had not even received even one committee vote. The 2024 legislative session, which concluded in May, saw the furthest advancement of such legislation to date. The bill, H. F. 1930, was heard in four separate House committees: Health Policy and Finance, Judiciary and Civil Law, Public Safety, and Commerce. The bill was not, however, brought to a full House vote, and its companion bill in the Senate, S.F. 1813, did not receive any hearings.

The legislation did not have the votes to pass even a legislature in which both houses are controlled by Democrats. And Democratic Gov. Tim Walz clarified that he did not have a position on the bill.

If enacted, this year’s bill would have been one of the most extreme in the country. It would have required all medical doctors to inform patients diagnosed with a terminal illness and a life expectancy of fewer than six months about the option to end their life through assisted suicide. The bill lacks adequate conscience protections for doctors who find this mandate contrary to their beliefs about the proper practice of medicine. Additionally, the bill stipulates that of the two medical professionals who need to approve a request for assisted suicide, only one must be a medical doctor.

Notably, the proposal does not mandate a mental health evaluation before a patient receives a lethal prescription from their doctor. And it lacks adequate safeguards against, among other things, elder abuse.

Camosy: Some think of opposition to PAK as coming from people who identify as religious conservatives. How does what happened in Minnesota sit with that assumption? What implications does your answer have for the role that the Church — all things being equal — should play?

Adkins: The issue of physician-assisted suicide transcends faith or political ideology. Many Minnesotans, regardless of their political views, see assisted suicide as a dangerous practice with the potential to cause more harm than it aims to alleviate. The Minnesota Catholic Conference helps lead a diverse coalition, the MN Alliance for Ethical health care, which includes over 50 organizations from various sectors such as religious, medical, legal, disability rights, and hospice and palliative care, along with thousands of individual supporters from all backgrounds.

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