In her recent memoir, author and therapist Amy Bloom discusses her heart-wrenching decision to travel with her husband to Switzerland to end his life at Dignitas, a clinic that prescribes life-ending medication to terminally ill patients. Brian had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and wasn’t able to find the help he needed in the United States under the various state laws at that time.
The book provides a unique lens through which to view a difficult topic: the right to die.
Currently Minnesota does not have a death with dignity law. Helping someone else end their own life in this state may result in felony charges, prison time, and/or fines. That doesn’t mean those laws might not change, however, and many in the state are hoping for this.
Since 2015, Minnesota lawmakers have been working on aid-in-dying legislation. The Minnesota End-of-Life Option Act was introduced in February 2021, and it’s modeled closely after the laws in Oregon. The bill would allow terminally ill adults of a sound mind to request medication from their doctor that would end their life.
If this legislation passes, Minnesota would join 10 other states and the District of Columbia in having authorized medical aid in dying. Of course it’s still unclear whether the bill will ever become a law.
In the meantime, what options do Minnesotans have? Would a change of residency be necessary to use another state’s death with dignity laws?
In 2014 Brittany Maynard brought national attention to this conversation when she opted to move to Oregon to end her own life with medication prescribed by a physician there. Maynard had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the age of 29.
At that time, Oregon laws had a residency requirement for those who wanted to take advantage of their Death With Dignity Act. That requirement, however, ended earlier this year, making Oregon the only state where terminally ill non-residents can can end their lives through medical treatment from Oregon doctors.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t still lots of hoops to jump through, though.
In Oregon, as in states with similar laws, an attending physician has to determine whether or not a patient has met the necessary criteria. Eligibility requirements include an age over 18, the ability to make and communicate wishes to a healthcare provider, and a diagnosis of a terminal illness that will result in death in less than six months. There are several other required steps to be taken by the patient and physician before the prescription will be given.
If the patient meets all of the criteria and the medication is prescribed, the medication should be taken in Oregon. Then the original diagnosis will be listed as the cause on the death certificate with the manner of death marked as “natural.” This can be important for life insurance reasons, and the converse is true as well.
According to Death With Dignity, you risk losing the legal protections of Oregon if you take the medication in another state. In that case, the death could be ruled a suicide, which could have negative implications for insurance policies.
These are obviously not decisions to be made lightly, and they involve soul-searching and difficult conversations with loved ones. Books like Bloom’s In Love and fiction like Mercy by Jodi Picoult and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes provide different perspectives as well. As with all challenging topics, you will find a myriad of points of views when you engage in this discussion.
As an estate planning and elder law firm, Schromen Law, LLC receives questions about right to die and death with dignity options frequently. While we do not take a stance on this topic, we do want to hold space for these challenging — and often controversial — conversations about death.
The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between Schromen Law, LLC and the reader. The views expressed in this article are not a statement of support or endorsement by Schromen Law, LLC. The information contained herein is not offered as legal or medical advice and should not be construed as legal or medical advice.