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The ethical implications of physician-assisted suicide

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California's State Senate recently approved a bill to allow terminally ill residents to use physician-prescribed drugs to end their lives. 

Oregon has allowed it since 1997. And a bill called "the Minnesota Compassionate Care Act" was introduced in the legislature earlier last spring.  Advocates in Minnesota say they will pursue it again next session.

MPR News Kerri Miller hosted a conversation on how public opinion is changing on assisted suicide and how that's influencing the debate in different states.

Change in California

"This is not something that is new. Physicians have participated in end-of-life care for a long time," said California Medical Association's Dr. Theodore Mazer.

Mazer's group recently dropped their opposition to physician-assisted suicide. The group is now "neutral" on the subject.

"We have excellent care for people at the end of life,"  Mazer added. "We still think that is the way to go."

Not an option for most people

"Most of us will die ... a death by a thousand cuts. We will have multiple chronic conditions. We will live on the thin edge of survival for many years," said Dr Joanne Lynn. 

"The average duration of needing someone else's help every day is almost three years, for people who make it to 65. In this whole debate, we aren't talking about the person who wants to be killed or wants to be dead, to evade the impoverishment of long-term care."

Oregon's example

"In Oregon, less than 1/2 of 1 percent" of people who died of physician-assisted suicide, said bioethicist Thaddeus Pope..

Pope adds that fears of people choosing physician-assisted suicide out of economic necessity haven't panned out in Oregon.