A featured article in Sunday's Star Tribune was an excellent discussion of the ethical and moral positions of both sides on the controversy of end-of-life decisions ("Whose decision at death's door?"). The report was balanced and factual. We tend to think of dying as a moment in time. In many cases these days, dying is a process lasting days or longer.
I take issue with two statements in the article made by Dr. Dennis O'Hare. He claims that in death with dignity legislation, "You're putting me as the physician in the role of gatekeeper." This is false. No physician would ever be forced to participate in the process. O'Hare also stated that "we do a great job of taking care of pain." A more correct claim would be that pain can usually be lessened, but often at the cost of major side effects and at dosages high enough to impair levels of consciousness. A more accurate experience is reported by Joanne Roberts, a former hospice medical director and, at the time, an opponent of the Washington Death with Dignity Act, that "all our best drugs just weren't enough to relieve the suffering." Roberts has changed her position and now advocates for similar legislation in Minnesota. Modern medicine sometimes has the power to prolong life, of a sort, but at the cost of increased pain and suffering.
The article accurately reports on concerns about the "slippery slope," and Canada's experience must be noted. The article also reported how Oregon and Washington have fashioned legislation that protects against that misuse while allowing patients a merciful, humane, dignified conclusion to their lives. Minnesota could do the same.
Jim Haemmerle, Savage
The writer is a retired physician.
Personal freedom has always been the Republican mantra, yet when Republican lawmakers have an opportunity to protect personal freedom, they vote against it.
Defending the sale of weapons designed for warfare and used to kill innocent people is standing up for personal freedom. Somehow, medical aid in dying, which allows terminally ill patients of sound mind to peacefully end their life rather than spend their final days suffering, is not ("Whose decision at death's door?").
We all know we're going to die. We all hope for a peaceful death. When the issue of medical aid in dying arises again and again, Republicans want to make sure we don't have a say in that. Suffering before death is evidently good for us; it makes us stronger, I guess. God never gives us more than we can bear (although dying pretty much proves it's more than we can bear). Blowing apart innocent children in mass shootings is justifiable, but compassionately allowing one who is dying to do so peacefully is intolerable.
This argument always reminds of the ending of the poem "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant. This describes personal freedom, and I hope some Minnesota Republicans could take it to heart, because, after all, they are going to die someday:
"Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night, / Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed / By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, / Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch / About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."
Mary Alice Divine, White Bear Lake
I support DFL Sen. Kelly Morrison's right-to-die bill. I have researched ways to euthanize myself in the event I ever received a diagnosis for a fatal disease such as Alzheimer's or ALS where the outlook is certain and the ramifications to self and family are grim. I do not want to suffer with such a diagnosis, I do not want my family to suffer watching me and/or taking care of me, and I do not want my family treasure to be dissipated due to my illness, which would only cause more hardship to my surviving spouse. With such a fatal diagnosis, I should have the option of seeking medically assisted suicide rather than being forced to come up with a do-it-myself method. Do-it-yourself suicide can fail, be painful or be traumatic for loved ones.
Furthermore, only allowing medically assisted suicide when a medical provider says a patient is within six months of death (as is the case in some states) is too short a window. Diseases such as Alzheimer's and ALS can drag on for years and cause years of suffering. Moreover, with some fatal diseases, a person may not be of sound mind and reasoning when the person gets within six months of death. Under certain conditions, medically assisted suicide is allowed in Switzerland and has been for many years.
Dying is a part of life. It is a natural outcome of living. All living things die. People should have the right to say "enough." People should not be forced to "fight" their illness or endure it when the outcome is certain.
Michael Braman, Minneapolis
We can't do what staff can do
Fairview says that casual chaplains and community clergy can fill the gap left by the departing chaplains ("Chaplain corps takes big hit at Fairview Health Services," Nov. 10). As a casual chaplain in the Fairview system who has done this work for the last six years, I have to dispute this.
"Casual" means that one only works when one of the hospitals needs someone to fill in. The idea that casuals and community clergy can fill in would be most difficult. As a casual, I can't build the relationships with patients, family and staff because I am typically only there one day at a time. I can't follow up with patients and families who need continued support. Staff chaplains are there every day and come to know patients, families and staff intimately. Community clergy hardly have enough time to do their own jobs, much less attend to the needs of patients and families. In addition, not every patient identifies with a faith group or has a congregation nearby to rely on; these patients still need and deserve emotional and spiritual support.
I love my casual chaplain job but not at the expense of so many talented and dedicated staff chaplains that are losing their jobs. I sincerely hope that Fairview reconsiders this decision that will impact patient, family and staff care.
Helen Maddix, Fridley
I am very disheartened to read and hear about M Health Fairview's decision to lay off 13 chaplains from their metro area hospital and clinics. One thing we learned from the pandemic was the importance of chaplains in hospital care as they became the balm of the medical team. Chaplains who serve in hospitals tend and care for patients and their families, plus the medical staff. Hospital chaplains serve as part of the interdisciplinary medical team because it has been widely recognized that the state of a patient's spiritual and emotional health is a critical aspect to healing. I can't imagine what it will be like for both patients and overworked staff when chaplains are not readily available. Muslim chaplains at the University of Minnesota hospital are uniquely critical to helping families navigate the cultural and institutional systems of the hospital, as there is a high population of Somali residents in the Cedar-Riverside area.
Hospital chaplains are trained to provide hospitality, support, and appropriate resources to all faith traditions and to those with none. M Health Fairview should reconsider its decision.
Stephanie McCullough-Cain, Minneapolis
The writer is a chaplain.