In my healthcare career in service to people with apparent, and non-apparent disabilities and to
older adults, I am deeply concerned about why legislation to legalize physician-assisted suicide in
Minnesota is especially harmful to people with disabilities and also to older adults. The proposed
bill would exacerbate many complex problems in healthcare, and would result in the devaluation
of people with disabilities and older adults.
Physician-assisted suicide is opposed by the National Council on Independent Living, the National
Council on Disability and the American Medical Association. In my role as Executive Director of
Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, we provide services to people with apparent and nonapparent
disabilities in advancing independent living. I join these national organizations and the
Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare in opposition to this harmful legislation that has the
potential to place in great risk people with disabilities and older adults.
As a former president for 17 years of a Rule 29 mental health clinic a licensed Rule 43 outpatient
treatment center for children, families and individuals, and a licensed day center for older adults, I
know that today, we face a severe mental health crisis for children, families and adults. The
current level of need for mental health services surpasses the behavioral health sector’s ability to
meet this demand throughout Minnesota. Legalizing physician-assisted suicide would make it a
“standard of care” requiring providers to provide both life-saving and life-ending medical advice.
Let’s stop for a moment and think about what that means especially for individuals with the nonapparent
disability of severity, chronicity and acuity of an ongoing mental health diagnosis. Any
individual with any level of a mental health diagnosis should not have to be placed in potential
jeopardy by a physician in which the option is life or death; The proposed physician assisted
suicide law would create such a reality. This potentially leads to the devaluation of people over
The devaluation of those who are at-risk is underscored by a 2019 National Council on Disability
report that stated legalization of physician-assisted suicide perpetuates the “historical and
continued devaluation of the lives of people with disabilities by the medical community, legislators,
researchers, and even health economists” by promoting “unequal access to medical care,
including life-saving care.” The report goes on to say where physician-assisted suicide laws have
been enacted there is a suicide contagion such that, “In Oregon, government reports show a
statistical correlation between assisted suicide under the Oregon law and an increase in other
suicides.” Is this what we want in Minnesota?
For Minnesota, let’s make sure we understand the dire consequences of physician assisted
suicide laws. Physician assisted suicide could potentially create a rise in other suicides in
Minnesota. This would be especially concerning during a time in which the demand for services,
are greater than our ability to meet the acuity, severity and chronicity of that demand. Physician
Assisted Suicide legislation poses too many unintended consequences at a time our state’s
mental health service providers are in crisis in meeting current demand for services.
Furthermore, to highlight the unequal access to care for people with disabilities and older adults, I
point to federal laws, and related state services and benefits, that require asset limitations of
$2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples in order to receive those services and benefits.
Those monetary restrictions have been fixed at those same dollar amounts since 1983 – 40 years
of the exact same dollar amounts as fixed asset requirements. As a Nation and for Minnesota we
should not have laws with these fixed assets frozen in time for 40 years. People with disabilities
and older adults already see their care options severely reduced due to these severe asset
limitations. When real healthcare is expensive for people with disabilities and physician-assisted
suicide is cheap how will life-saving care be denied or rationed to those most in need? I would
rather see us as a Nation and as a State of Minnesota, eliminate the $2,000 individual and $3,000
couple asset limitations and include an adjusted cost of living for all on these benefits and
services and to require a cost-of-living adjustment annually, not just for some services but for all
benefits and services for people with disabilities and older adults.
Just as this notion of financial “burden” has become more prevalent, it’s not surprising that the
Oregon Department of Health has reported that 52 percent of patients stated their fear of being a
burden to family, friends and caregivers as a primary reason for seeking life-ending medication.
Fear of pain and suffering did not even make the top five. This view of disability and of aging, also
aligns with documented refusals by insurance companies to cover life-saving care, when we need
to disrupt all this as conventional thinking. The real question here is what is our commitment to
one another as a democracy, with regard to the historical gap in the level of benefits, services,
supports and asset limitations endured by people with disabilities and older adults over many
What is required, instead of physician-assisted suicide, is equity of care - better access to care
and community supports and integration for all. I am in favor of increasing funding, services and
benefits for people with disabilities and older adults. I am also in favor of increasing mental health
funding, services and benefits for children, families and individuals who are in need of them
throughout Minnesota especially in the area of suicide prevention. I am in favor of solving the PCA
worker shortage crisis across Minnesota and throughout the United States of America. It is time to
overcome the indifference to the needs of people with disabilities and older adults, which is at the
root cause of the growing crisis to thousands of people in Minnesota and millions of people across
the United States of America who seek to realize their inalienable rights to independent living.
Physician-assisted suicide legislation is not real healthcare. As we find our way as a society
having endured a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, too many individuals are already in crisis and too
much is at risk for children, families, individuals, people with disabilities and older adults. If we
have learned anything from this pandemic is that we are at our very best as a society, when we
work together to advance the ability of people to care for one another, and that ought to be our
guiding principle before us as a bridge over indifference in our legislative pursuits for the health,
and well-being for all, along with needed human services and supports for people who rely upon
them for daily living in Minnesota and throughout our Nation.
Jesse Bethke Gomez, MMA is Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Independent
Living which is a member of the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare.