A pair of bills authored by state Sen. Kathy Sheran encourage families and communities to have early conversations about end-of-life planning.

The Let's Talk Now Act would provide grants to nonprofits and local public health boards that support community- and family-based end-of-life conversations. The Advanced Care Act would provide training to people who help families engage in these conversations.

Sheran, DFL-Mankato, presented the bills to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday. They both passed on a voice vote and were referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

Sheran compared life's transitions to a sporting event with quarters and halftimes. Society spends a lot of time talking about the early quarters, she said, but early conversations about later life transitions are often left by the wayside.

“This conversation needs to be as early and as constant as our conversations about growth and development in early stages of life,” she said.

In testimony Dr. Greg Kutcher, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System, Southwest Minnesota Region, said the need for such conversations has increased as health care has become more complex. He said the best decisions come when the patients and families talk about and know their values.

“A lot of times patients' wishes aren't followed because family members aren't ready to accept them,” he said. “This bill will help teach people how to have those conversations amongst themselves.”

Studies show that the lack of advance care planning conversations leads to poorer outcomes, Dr. Ken Kephart, president of the Twin Cities Medical Society, said during testimony. Seven in 10 people say they would prefer to die at home, but only 15 percent actually do, he said. Too often families don't know what their loved ones want, he said.

The Let's Talk Now Act states that applicants must submit grant applications by Sept. 1 and the Minnesota Commissioner of Health must award the grants by Oct. 1.

The bill's final subdivision explicitly states that certain practices, including mercy killing euthanasia or assisted suicide, are not condoned.

During the hearing, Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, expressed concern the provision doesn't go far enough.

Sheran stressed the bill is about not just one-time conversations but periodically having people engage in conversations about what they want, a sentiment Kutcher also expressed.

“It's not a bill around pushing a certain decision,” he said. “It's really about making sure people can be talking about it ahead of time so there isn't confusion.”

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