Marianne Turnbull of St. Paul invited me into her modest Midway home Tuesday, and I mentioned to break the ice that she has two cats. I prefer canines, but to each his or her own, which might be the underlying theme to this write-up.
“Are you allergic to them?” the 61-year-old retired St. Paul Schools social worker asked.
“No,” I replied. “But they might be allergic to me.”
Turnbull has a terminal illness — Stage 4 ovarian cancer. On Wednesday, the long-divorced mother who raised two daughters now in their 30s is scheduled to testify at the State Capitol Building. She will try to convince members of the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee to pass the End-of-Life Option Act.
The bill, which previous versions of have died without ever reaching a vote pro or con, would allow a terminally ill resident of the state who has been told death will likely occur in six months or less, to “request and obtain a prescription for medication that the terminally ill adult may self-administer for a peaceful death …”
There are various steps before such a decision is approved. They include psychiatric evaluations to ascertain whether the petitioner is of sound mind, as well as the petitioner being made aware of alternatives such as hospice and palliative care.
The bill is modeled after Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. Barbara Coombs Lee, that bill’s co-author and the president of Compassion & Choices, a group lobbying nationally for the bills, is also scheduled to testify at the public hearing.
Five states — California, Colorado, Hawai, New Jersey and Maine — and Washington, D.C., have followed Oregon and passed similar laws in the past four years.
But opponents, many of them religious or politically conservative groups, have been successful in squelching similar efforts in other states. They bristle at the “medical aid in dying” terminology. They prefer to call it “physician-assisted suicide.” They believe, among other concerns, that it will promote a culture of death.
Indeed, one group, the Minnesota Family Council, sent out missives Tuesday informing “pro-life” bill opponents about the hearing and encouraging them to show up and wear the color red as a show of solidarity.
“Minnesotans deserve real care throughout life’s journey and our legislators ought to be working towards always providing the best of healthcare not creating a standard of care that simply sends patients home with a vial of pills to end their lives,” the email sent to me stated.
Turnbull, who was raised Catholic (“I wanted to marry Jesus in second grade,” she told me), finds the “culture of death” stance by bill opposers somewhat hypocritical.
”I’m sorry, but aren’t we also promoting a culture of death with all the guns that we have out there, especially all of the shootings in St. Paul in the last week?” Turnbull said as we chatted on the backyard deck of her home, one adorned with a multitude of flowers and plants.
A graduate of the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work, Turnbull spent 16 years in the St. Paul school district handling heartbreaking “tears and tissues” issues. Before that, she worked two years as a social worker at a state-funded clinic in Prescott, Ariz., and did a stint with the local Fairview health care system.
She was first diagnosed with advanced cancer in September 2015 and has relapsed twice following chemotherapy and other treatments. One relapse took a year, a second only four months. She is contemplating taking part in a University of Minnesota clinical study.
But she was also informed Tuesday by a Houston-based doctor from whom she sought a second opinion that her specific type of ovarian cancer may not respond to more chemo treatment.
Her view in support of the proposed bill was also influenced by watching her mother, a victim of Alzheimer’s, die after undergoing a final transition that took more than 24 hours.
She understands the opposition from the Catholic Church, among other groups, “but not many Catholics themselves.”
“The people that will use this bill, they’ve been talking to God also,” she said. “Believe me. We probably have done more in-depth evaluation of our lives and try to make everything good, dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. It requires a lot of deep thinking.”
Though she knows this bill will likely not even get a hearing in the Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate this upcoming session, she still plans to show up at the hearing.
“I’m here today to say that I want to live for as long as I possibly can,” is what Turnbull plans to say Wednesday. “I want the medical care that can ease my pain and allow me to be in a relationship with my children, family and friends. But, when the time comes, I also want to have a good death.
“While I am still able to speak for myself,” she adds in her prepared statement, “I want to be able to say goodbye and die peacefully rather than deteriorate to the point that doctors sedate me to unconsciousness while my family watches me slowly dwindle.”