10 Patients Got Life-Ending Drugs In Colorado Under New Law

Colorado's law allowing terminally ill patients to seek life-ending drugs is quietly underway, with an estimated 10 prescriptions filled since voters approved the practice last year, advocates say.

Compassion & Choices, the national organization that pushed the ballot initiative in November, provided the tally, but it's impossible to know how many people took the drugs, Colorado Politics reported Tuesday.

State health authorities won't release figures on prescriptions until the end of the year.

Colorado has joined Oregon, California, Montana, Vermont, Washington state and Washington, D.C., in allowing doctor-assisted suicide. But dozens of Colorado hospitals won't participate in ending someone's life. About one-third of the state's hospitals are Catholic-affiliated.

Doctors still can choose to write prescriptions in their offices and allow patients to end their lives at home.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment plans to report by the end of the year how many doctors handled prescriptions, but it won't say how many people took the drugs.

Advocates say about one in three people prescribed life-ending drugs don't take them.

Patti James, and 81-year-old from Littleton with lung cancer, said that decision should be hers. She has fought cancer for 11 years and said she can't take any more radiation.

"I've had a long run with it," she said.

James said her choice to live or die, when the time is right, will be a personal and private one. She campaigned last year for the law.

"We met so many people begging us to get this passed," James said. "Not just sick people, but people who want to have this option available if they ever needed it."

In California, health officials late last month reported numbers from the first six months of its medically assisted suicide law, which went into effect in June 2016.

A total of 191 people in the nation's most-populous state received life-ending drugs after being diagnosed with having less than six months to live, and 111 people took the medication and died. The outcomes of 59 others who received the prescriptions were not reported by their doctors, health officials said.

In Colorado, lawmakers tucked $44,000 into the budget during the legislative session that ended in May to help better inform doctors with patients who might ask about the new law and pursue the option.

But Republican state Sen. Kevin Lundberg argued that taxpayers should not support the practice.

"This is not the job of a doctor, and it's certainly not the job of the government," Lundberg said.

Advocates like James say the new law empowers patients to make the decision.

"I've always felt there had to be a kinder, more peaceful way to go," James said.