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Reader's View: Death with dignity has to be a choice

I was living in Oregon almost 20 years ago when we passed the first death-with-dignity law in the U.S. We citizens of Oregon passed the referendum once, and then, when the state legislature sent it back to voters, we passed it a second time with even greater support. By 2012, 80 percent of Oregon voters supported the law.

The rules and regulations governing this law are clear and specific and can easily be found online. But this law is not widely used at all. From 1998 through 2007, about 296,000 Oregonians died of all causes. Only 341 of the 99,000 people who died of the same diseases ended their lives with a legally prescribed overdose. There do not appear to be any situations of misuse or abuse of this law in any of the four states that have such a law.

A friend of mine in Oregon was one of the few who used the law. She had breast cancer that metastasized to her bones and brain. She was blind and bedridden and doctors were unable to manage her pain. At that point, in the presence and with the blessings of her husband and her adult daughter, she chose to take the prescriptions to end her life.

As a former hospice volunteer, I was told pain can be managed and patients can be made comfortable. My friend didn't find this to be true. I didn't find it to be true with some of my hospice patients, either. I believe it is in these fairly rare situations that patients deserve to have choices.

I hope the Minnesota Legislature will take up this issue and make this a choice for those few people who desperately need it to be able to have what for them is a good death.

Jan Karon