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In Response: 'Medical aid in dying' a show of compassion

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We represent an association of Minnesota clergy, including six Christian denominations and Reformed Judaism. After reading the column, “ We’ve denied assisted suicide for good reason ,” posted Aug. 31 at duluthnewstribune.com, we felt compelled to speak out.

As faith leaders, we have witnessed first-hand the suffering of many people in the last months, weeks, and days of their lives. We have held the hands of people who have “fought the good fight” against cancer, ALS, and so many other progressive, terminal diseases. Their doctors and nurses have performed every miracle of modern medicine and provided every means of comfort. Yet the suffering of these terminally ill individuals continues.

Compassion means more than empathy for, or “suffering with,” another. The definition of compassion also includes a desire to help alleviate the suffering of others. That is why we support the option for a gentle, peaceful death through medical aid in dying.

When state legislatures authorize medical aid in dying, it gives individuals the option to ask their doctor for a prescription they may self-ingest to peacefully end their suffering once they are in the final stages of their illness. Medical aid in dying is already authorized in nine states and Washington, D.C.; bills to authorize it have been introduced in 28 states, including Minnesota.

Medical aid in dying is not suicide, assisted or otherwise. Suicide refers to people who are mentally ill and end their life prematurely, often violently. People who want access to medical aid in dying want to live, but their disease is going to kill them no matter what. They simply want some measure of control in their last days to avoid unbearable suffering.

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A majority of Americans and a majority of Minnesotans support authorizing medical aid in dying. A ccording to LifeWay Research, an Evangelical Survey Research organization , more than half of all Christians (59%) find medical aid in dying to be morally acceptable, including Catholics (70%) and Protestants (53%).

Despite the evidence and statistics, people of faith may differ in their views about medical aid in dying, and each may make different decisions as they face the end of their life. Some find deep spiritual meaning in suffering while others find meaning in the exercise of personal autonomy. No one way is more “right” or “moral” than another. What’s important is to recognize that all perspectives are valid and should be respected. No one religious viewpoint should dictate what’s spiritually right for others. Ultimate questions of life and death belong with the person who is dying, not with the government or any religious entity.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, who spent many years training in a Jesuit Seminary, wrote this as he signed the California End-of-Life Option Act into law: “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

The Rev. Edward Holland of Hopkins, Minnesota, is a Methodist minister, and the Rev. Harlan Limpert of Shoreview, Minnesota, is a Unitarian Universalist minister. Both are members of the Minnesota Interfaith Clergy for End of Life Options.

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