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Minnesota family featured in new Amazon docuseries covering end-of-life

Blaine woman's advocacy for medical aid in dying bill featured in new docuseries
Blaine woman's advocacy for medical aid in dying bill featured in new docuseries 02:42

BLAINE, Minn. — A Blaine woman and her family will be featured in Amazon Prime's new six-episode docuseries, "Take Me Out Feet First." The docuseries follows individuals advocating for end-of-life options.

The series was created by New York City native, Serene Meshel-Dillman, who was inspired to make the docuseries after she witnessed both of her parents end their lives in the comfort of their home.  

"Take Me Out Feet First" is a six-part docuseries made in partnership with the nonprofit advocacy group Compassion & Choices. Each episode will follow a different individual or family who has, advocated for, or is actively exploring end-of-life options. The docuseries is available to stream now on Amazon Prime. 

In 2018, Blaine resident Danna Nelson was diagnosed with stage 3 rhabdomyosarcoma — a rare and aggressive type of cancer that forms in soft tissue — when she was 22 years old. Nelson succumbed to her illness and passed away in 2022. 

Danna, a trombonist, was following her passion at a music school in Finland.

"It took her ability to play her trombone, it took her ability of travel, took her, she was a marathon runner. She couldn't run anymore," said her mother, Candy Nelson.

When her condition worsened, she returned to Minnesota in 2020 to receive care from Masonic Children's Hospital.

Danna Nelson

"Flew her home and we were so lucky to have her with us another 20 months," said her father, Dan Nelson.

During that time, Danna began advocating on social media and in other forums for medical aid in dying, which is different from euthanasia in that patients administer prescribed drugs to end their lives instead of a doctor. 

"I'm not prioritizing it in my own life, I'm prioritizing making it legal for the future or terminally ill people," explained Danna in a 2020 interview.

In memory of Danna, her parents have become advocates for the expansion of end-of-life options. In the latest legislative session, the Nelsons spoke to Congress as advocates for a medical aid-in-dying bill. 

The Medical Aid in Dying Bill — also known as bill HF 1930 — aims to allow a terminally ill person with six months or less to live the option to end their life medically through medication. 

According to local advocacy group, Compassion & Choices, the bill was modeled after laws Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, which has been in practice for 25 years and has yet to report an instance of abuse or coercion. 

To qualify for the Death with Dignity Act, a person requesting end-of-life options must be over 18 years old, terminally ill with a prognosis of six months or less to live and mentally capable of making an informed healthcare decision. 

Key provisions in Minnesota's Medical Aid in Dying bill included: 

  • The end-of-life medication must be self-administered by the patient
  • Patients can access medical aid in dying from healthcare providers licensed in Minnesota to provide similar medical care 
  • The attending healthcare provider must inform terminally ill adults requesting medical aid in dying about other end-of-life care options including comfort care, hospice care and pain control
  • A qualifying patient must receive clearance from two healthcare providers confirming their six-month or less prognosis and cognitive ability to make an informed medical decision
  • A terminally ill person can withdraw their request for medication, not take the medication once they have it, or otherwise change their mind at any point

There is also language in the bill that discusses insurance coverage and protections against denial of coverage, criminal culpability for individuals abusing the end-of-life medication and legal protections for healthcare providers. 

The bill passed through four House committees but failed to move through the Senate before the end of the 2023-2024 session. On their website, Compassion & Choices says the bill didn't advance due to opposition from two DFL Senators, ultimately putting a majority vote out of reach.

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