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No resolution to debate about Minnesota patients taking lethal drugs

ST. PAUL - Chester Jacobson sat at a Minnesota Senate committee witness table, reading his wife's words to legislators: "We should have the right to die peacefully on our own terms."...

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Sally Settle of Apple Valley, Minn., holds up a photo of her late mother during a Wednesday, March 16, 2016, Minnesota Senate hearing about legislation that would allow patients to take medicine to die. Her mother wanted that right, Settle said. (Minnesota Senate Media Services photo by David Oakes)

ST. PAUL – Chester Jacobson sat at a Minnesota Senate committee witness table, reading his wife's words to legislators: "We should have the right to die peacefully on our own terms."

Bobbi Jacobson of Richfield sat nearby in a wheelchair Wednesday, unable to talk because she suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS. She wants the right to administer drugs to herself when it is time to die, but state law forbids that.

The Jacobsons' comments and other emotional testimony came as a state Senate committee heard testimony about whether Minnesotans should be able to take their own lives after receiving doctors' prescriptions for lethal drugs.

After more than three hours of testimony, Sen. Chris Eaton withdrew her bill, likely ending debate on it for the 2016 legislative session.

"It is very clear we need to continue this conversation," Eaton said. "There is a lot of misunderstanding about what is in this bill."

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Eaton, D-Brooklyn Center, offered her bill to allow Minnesota to join five other states that allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminal patients.

The Eaton bill would allow Minnesotans to administer lethal drugs to themselves only after two doctors approved, and agree the patient has less than six months to live.

"The decision is made between the dying persons and their doctors," Eaton said.

Sally Settle began her time as a witness by holding up a picture of her late mother, who said: "I'm not afraid to die; I am afraid of how I'm going to get there."

At one point, Settle said, her mother asked her to buy a gun. Settle didn't.

"She died of very painful complications," Settle said, "after doctors could not keep her comfortable. ... No Minnesotan should have to die in this fashion."

While Eaton said that taking lethal drugs is not suicide, opponents call it physician assisted-suicide.

"This bill tells me I am a burden," 35-year-old Elizabeth Bakewicz told the committee, saying the Eaton legislation sends the wrong message.

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"Yes, some days I want to die," said the woman with several illnesses, including cancer. She urged Minnesota "not to bury people because they are burdens."

Dr. Corey Ingram of Mayo Clinic said the bill that he says allows "physician-hastened death" would be a barrier for better health care.

"We are about to become a state where physicians are given tools to end life," he said, but doctors who help people die have inadequate training on how to use tools to ease suffering.

In Oregon, Ingram said, people ask for lethal medicines for problems such as decreasing ability to take part in enjoyable activities and for financial reasons.

Kathy Wehr told about her 21-year-old son, Kylen, who she said has enough medical issues that he would qualify to receive lethal medicine.

The young man, sitting in a wheelchair near his mother at the witness table, could be a considered a burden to his family and has lost dignity, Wehr said, but should not receive lethal medicine, Wehr said.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said that her father is near the end of his life, but she opposes the Eaton bill. She said that perhaps hospice and other aids for the dying should be strengthened.

A Californian flew in to argue in favor of the Eaton proposal.

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Dan Diaz and his wife, Brittney, two years ago moved to Oregon to take advantage of that state's law, similar to the one the Senate committee heard Wednesday.

They moved, Diaz said, "to secure a gentle passing if it became necessary for her." His wife used the Oregon law to die quietly.

The alternative, Diaz said, would be putting his wife "into a coma and then withholding food and water."

Kim Horton said that her mother was an ovarian cancer patient who wanted to live. "Death was not her choice, the cancer decided that."

Her mother wanted a peaceful death, Horton said, but without the choice of assisted death she was "unrecognizable and in unbelievable pain" in her final days.

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