Thursday, March 17, 2016

Attempt to legalize assisted suicide in Minnesota withdrawn after Senate hearing

The following news release was issued on March 16, 2016.

ST. PAUL — An effort to legalize assisted suicide in Minnesota appears to be dead after the bill's author withdrew her legislation this afternoon. More than two hours of public testimony on S.F. 1880 included 17 physicians, nurses, attorneys and members of the disability community who warned of the grave dangers assisted suicide poses to vulnerable members of society. At the end of the hearing, lead author Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, withdrew the bill before committee members could vote. A vote would very likely have killed the bill.

More than 100 people opposed to the bill attended its first hearing today, wearing red "No assisted suicide" stickers. Minnesotans Against Assisted Suicide (MNAAS) and many of its supporters submitted written testimony to the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing committee, which took up the bill. The bill has not been heard in the House.

Medical professionals offered compelling arguments in favor of compassion and care for those facing illness and disability.

"We have an obligation to the terminally ill and their loved ones. But this bill will not help that cause," said Thomas Nobrega, M.D., a St. Paul cardiologist. "This bill is about giving a patient the means to die by a drug overdose. It creates an irreconcilable conflict between the doctor as a compassionate guide and healer, and the motivation to expedite death."

As a family physician and county coroner, Dr. James Joyce has seen the "ravages" of suicide, but also the gratitude of those he has helped overcome the desire to end their lives. Legal assisted suicide would severely damage the doctor-patient relationship, he said. "If they can’t trust us, we can’t help them."

Kathy Ware, R.N., is a disability advocate and mother of a disabled son, Kylen. She spoke passionately about the need to protect and defend persons with disabilities. "People wouldn’t pursue assisted suicide if they had the help and care they needed for their loved one," she declared. "We in the disability community are not asking for pity. We want help and we want to be treated with value."

A woman suffering from terminal cancer and brain disease begged the committee members not to legalize assisted suicide. Elizabeth Bakewicz said persons with severe illnesses must be treated with dignity and not as burdens. "Under this bill I am treated as nothing but a list of burdens. But I am a human being," she said.

Neil Helgeson is the board president of The Arc Minnesota, a disability rights organization, and the father of a 23-year-old son with disabilities. He explained that persons dealing with disabilities generally enjoy life, but that society projects onto them a poor quality of life. "This places their lives at extraordinary risk," Helgeson stated. "Senate File 1880 poses a grave threat to individuals with disabilities."

Today's hearing and Sen. Eaton's withdrawal of the legislation is a victory for those with disabilities and serious illnesses, the elderly and all those who care for them.

MNAAS is a growing statewide coalition of organizations, professionals and individuals who oppose the legislation introduced in the 2015 Minnesota Legislature to legalize assisted suicide. For more information about MNAAS, visit

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Whole Woman's Health challenges safety standards before Supreme Court

This week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case challenging a Texas abortion law. The Texas provisions in question require that (1) abortion centers meet the same health and safety standards as other facilities that perform outpatient surgery and (2) abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital to ensure continuity of care in the event of complications.

These commonsense measures are designed to protect the health of women. But the abortion industry is vigorously opposed to them. The lead plaintiff in this landmark Supreme Court case? Whole Woman's Health.

Whole Woman's Health (WWH) is a Texas-based chain of abortion centers that expanded to Minnesota in 2012. In fact, WWH is now the second-leading practitioner of abortion in our state (behind only Planned Parenthood).

WWH's own track record in Texas shows why the Texas law is so important—and why WWH is so committed to stopping it. Justice Samuel Alito, during oral arguments on Wednesday, mentioned that there had been "instance after instance where Whole Woman's facilities have been cited for really appalling violations when they were inspected. Holes in the floor where ­­rats could come in, the lack of any equipment to adequately sterilize instruments."

Indeed, WWH has been cited many, many, many times for health code violations. In 2007, for example, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) fined WWH of Beaumont $3,050 for five different violations.

In 2011, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fined WWH of Austin and WWH of McAllen $40,410 for illegally disposing of the remains of aborted children. In 2012, the Texas Medical Board disciplined two WWH abortionists for violating standards of patient care. They were both fined $3,000 and required to take a medical education course.

An Oct. 3, 2013, inspection of the Beaumont clinic noted that "the facility failed to provide safe and sanitary equipment in the patients' procedure rooms." Inspectors found "numerous rusty spots on the suction machines used on the patient" that had "the likelihood to cause infection," according to the DSHS report. They also found "expired drugs," unlabeled "pre-filled medication cups," and "a large hole in the cabinet flooring ... [that] had the likelihood to allow rodents to enter the facility." The DSHS concluded: "[T]he facility failed to provide a safe environment for patients and staff."

An Aug. 29, 2013, inspection of WWH of San Antonio determined that it "failed to implement and enforce acceptable environmental controls in cleaning and preparing instruments for sterilization." A Sept. 4 inspection of WWH of McAllen found that "personnel ... were not following proper sterilization procedures." In 2014 and 2015, inspectors uncovered numerous additional safety violations at WWH clinics in Austin, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and McAllen.

Year after year, clinic after clinic, WWH never seems to get its act together. This should be especially concerning for Minnesota. Our state does not license or inspect abortion facilities at all—we have no way to determine if WWH has imported its shoddy conditions and practices into Minnesota. Current proposed legislation, H.F. 606/S.F. 616, would rectify this problem by licensing abortion centers in the same way as other outpatient surgical centers and allowing for health inspections. The Legislature will consider the bill again during the upcoming session.

In the Supreme Court case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, the Court should uphold the Texas law. Measures to improve the safety of women are constitutionally permissible. They are also good public policy.

Whole Woman's Health must be held to basic standards—in Texas and in Minnesota.

Video: A physician illustrates dismemberment abortion

In the video below, Dr. Anthony Levatino, who personally performed more than 1,200 abortions, graphically illustrates and explains the second-trimester dismemberment abortion procedure. More than 700 such abortions were performed in Minnesota in 2014.