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Kevin Bradley and David Breeden: People of faith support medical aid in dying

We are part of The Trust Project.

As spiritual leaders of the Interfaith Clergy for End-of-Life Options, we embrace dying as a natural part of life and encourage discussion about this inevitable transition that we each will face. Our mission is to promote understanding and acceptance of diverse spiritual beliefs related to end-of-life decisions.

We support the right to die a dignified, peaceful death at home, surrounded by those we love. We have seen too many people suffering from terminal illness face the end of their lives without access to all the options and choices that could have eased their passage. That is why we support legislation to give mentally sound, terminally ill adults the option to get a doctor's prescription for medication they may choose to self-administer if their suffering becomes unbearable.

We were heartened by the recent results of the survey conducted by LifeWay Research, showing that more than half of all Christians (59 percent), Catholics (70 percent), Protestants (53 percent) and those of other religions (70 percent) agree with the statement: "When a person is facing a painful terminal disease, it is morally acceptable to ask for a physician's aid in taking his or her own life." LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.

A scientific poll of Minnesotans from September also demonstrates widespread support for medical aid in dying both generally (73 percent) and among Christians (67 percent) and Catholics (71 percent).

More than 55 million U.S. citizens live in six states where medical aid in dying is authorized. Last month, Colorado joined Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and California when voters overwhelming supported — by 65 percent — the Colorado End-of-Life Options ballot initiative. In 2015, Minnesota Sen. Chris Eaton introduced legislation modeled after Oregon's Death with Dignity Act and hosted a series of listening sessions around the state. The bill received a hearing in the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee in March 2016, and Eaton has pledged to re-introduce the legislation this year.

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As the oldest of the 75 million Baby Boomers head into their seventh decade, terminal illnesses, such as cancer, are expected to surge over the next 20 years. Now is the time for state lawmakers to act on behalf of the majority of their constituents. They should honor the right of individuals to make end-of-life choices according to their own values and priorities.

The LifeWay Research results shows that many people of faith believe that asking for help in dying when you are experiencing extreme end-of-life suffering is a moral option. As persons of faith, we firmly believe this principle to be true. All terminally ill individuals of sound mind should have the option of medical aid in dying with the choice guided by their faith and in consultation with their family and doctor.

We believe that life is to be cherished and filled with meaning and purpose. But when suffering and incapacity induced by terminal illness makes our life too much to bear, a compassionate alternative must be available to us. Medical aid in dying is just such an option.

The Rev. Kevin Bradley, of St. Paul, is an interfaith counselor and hospice chaplain, and the Rev. David Breeden, of Bloomington, is senior minister at First Unitarian Society, Minneapolis.

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