MCC: Surrogacy commission, drug sentencing reform among legislative wins

(May 27, 2016 – The Catholic Spirit – Maria Wiering)

MinnesotaCapitolThe establishment of a surrogacy commission, passage of drug sentencing reform legislation and withdrawal of a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide are among the victories the Minnesota Catholic Conference is celebrating following the end of the Minnesota State Legislature’s 11-week session May 23.

“A lot of good things were done this session, even in divided government,” said Jason Adkins, MCC executive director, referring to the dynamic of a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a DFL-controlled Senate.

That dynamic “can be an important opportunity to advance legislation that really serves the common good,” he said. “The divided government prevents some of the more partisan or ideologically driven pieces of legislation from moving forward. Given that gridlock, . . . it’s important for people to find places where they can build common ground on what they can agree on, and when there is agreement reached, it’s a real powerful symbol of bipartisanship.”

He added: “If the Catholic Conference can play an important role in building those bridges and bringing people together, and identifying ways where there is common ground, then we’ve really added value to the whole public discussion.”

As advocates for public policy on behalf of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, MCC has long supported creating a commission to study the issue of commercial gestational surrogacy, or the practice of a women contracting to become pregnant and gestate a baby to be raised by someone else, often a party previously unknown to her. Minnesota law does not provide a legal framework to “sell your baby,” Adkins said, which is why the fertility treatment industry is eager for the state to adopt regulations to protect surrogacy contracts and the industry’s investment in the state.That bipartisan cooperation led to the passage of several pieces of MCC-backed legislation, including one establishing a surrogacy commission,which MCC listed as a top priority at the beginning of the session.

“We are deeply troubled by this, and we said the only way that Minnesota is going to be able to look at this rationally is if we create some sort of legislative mechanism, like a commission, to study it in further detail,” he said. “The normal legislative process of a few hearings in each house is simply not sufficient to properly address public policy questions that have deep ethical implications, but also have to deal with new and emerging technologies, and have a strong financial component to them.”

Adkins also praised the passage of drug sentencing reform legislation, calling it the “most important criminal justice reform in decades in Minnesota.”

The legislation was a way to ensure the state’s drug laws keep up with changes in the drug trade while justly punishing drug criminals, he said.

At the same time, it provides addicts and non-violent offenders the things they need “to be restored to the community,” Adkins said, such as addiction treatment.

“It was inspiring to see prosecutors, law enforcement, criminal defense attorneys, justice advocacy groups come together — groups that are normally opposed on a number of public policy questions — and really find ways to improve our drug sentencing laws,” he said. He also credited lawmakers who were willing to take the political risk of being tagged as “soft on crime” in an election year.

“It’s really important in the Year of Mercy to be talking about the way the role of mercy can be extended to all areas of our life, public policy included,” he added. “What our advocacy did was really help drive the moral imperative behind making this change.”

Also notable was the author’s withdrawal of a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Minnesota from committee consideration. Adkins expects the issue to be raised again next year, and MCC is continuing to work with a diverse coalition of physician-assisted suicide opponents aiming to increase awareness and education about the issue.

Adkins considers physician-assisted suicide to be a form of “false mercy,” as advocates cloak the position as one of compassion or dignity.

“Minnesota is the state with the best health care in the nation, and perhaps even most of the world, and for us to say we’re going to let people die because of their fear that they have no other choices” is wrong, Adkins said.

“We want to say, no, there is a hand to be there, to walk with you, so real compassion — to walk with or suffer with someone, to journey together,” he added. “We want to create a state that focuses on journeying together with people and walking with them, not simply sending them home with a vial of pills to die.”

He said the showing of opposition to the legislation at the March hearing held by the House’s Minnesota Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee was impressive and built momentum for fighting the legislation.

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