Lawmakers to Consider Physician-Assisted Suicide

December 11, 2014
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Colorado is one of several states that will take up the issue of physician-assisted suicide. The topic is once again in the national spotlight with the recent death of Brittany Maynard. The terminally ill 29 year-old moved to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s Death with Dignity law.

“I hope my family is still so proud of me and the choices I’ve made,” said Maynard in a interview with CBS news in which she explained her decision. She said she doesn’t view it as suicide because cancer is taking her life. “I am choosing to end it a little sooner and in a lot less pain and suffering.”

Oregon voters were the first in the country to pass the death with dignity act. And now two decades years later about 750 people have taken medication to hasten their deaths – including Brittany Maynard.

“It’s very rarely used, “ said Peg Sandeen, the executive director of the Death with Dignity National Center based in Portland, Oregon which helped passed the initiative. She said there are safe guards in place. A patient must make three separate requests to medical officials and go through two waiting periods.

“And then the person has to be evaluated by two different physicians and both physicians have to determine that the person is terminally ill with a prognosis of 6 months or less live, and is mentally competent to make healthcare decisions,” said Sandeen.

It’s a model Representative Lois Court (D-Denver) hopes Colorado can emulate.

“I’ve gotten emails and phone calls from all over the state from people that want the dignity of making this final decision,” said Court. She said one of her constituents is an as inspiration for a bill she plans to introduce during the next legislative session.

“He had ALS and he was suffering and he was starting to starve himself to death because he knew he was going to die,” said Court. Court was also moved by her own mother’s decade long battle and death from lung disease.

“I said I want to see her. My father said, no you don’t. You want to remember the mother you had, not what she has deteriorated into.”

But the bill will almost certainly be controversial and face an uphill battle with Republicans in control of the state senate – where opposition is already mounting.

“There is a significant moral responsibility, government has to defend life and to preserve life and it’s a very dangerous slippery slope, when we start battling in ok you can end a life here and you can end a life there,” said Senator Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud). He will chair the Senate Health and Human Services committee. He said the proposal forces physicians to violate the oath, of do no harm.

“This promotes a notion that it’s better to be dead, and I don’t believe we as humans have that moral authority on, I don’t want to call it a whim, but just the basis of this is not something I want to continue to do,” said Lundberg.

While some individual physicians support the process, The American Medical Association has long opposed physician-assisted suicide.

“It is understandable, though tragic, that some patients in extreme duress--such as those suffering from a terminal, painful, debilitating illness--may come to decide that death is preferable to life. However, allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good. Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”

But Sandeen said most of the opposition stems from religious objections.

“In all of the political campaigns that we’ve been involved with, about 50-60 percent of the funding from the opposition campaign comes directly from the Catholic Church.”

In 2012 the Catholic Church helped defeat a death with dignity ballot proposal in Massachusetts. Religious leaders from the Jewish community and other Christian denominations also opposed it. So far, Vermont, Oregon and Washington State have death with dignity laws on the books.