By Randi Lowenthal
Last month, Coloradoans voted to become the sixth state to allow terminally ill adults with six months or fewer to live and who are suffering unbearably, the option to request, obtain, and if they so choose, self-administer a prescription medication to bring about their peaceful death. Compassion & Choices will soon launch a Colorado Access Campaign to ensure that people understand (education) and have access to the law (implementation).
In Oregon, the first state to allow medical aid in dying, the record clearly demonstrates that it works, and that the abuses and slippery slope that opponents proposed did NOT occur. Oregonians have used the law sparingly and with full adherence to both the letter and the spirit with which the law was designed.
Because of circumstances surrounding several deaths in my immediate family, I feel quite strongly about having end-of-life options, and this law defines a narrow set of circumstances where physicians will be allowed to participate in “medical aid in dying (MAID)”. The law requires:
- Be at least 18 years of age.
- Be a legal resident of Colorado.
- Be diagnosed with an incurable illness likely to cause death within six months.
- Have that diagnosis confirmed by a second physician.
- Make two oral requests for the medication with a minimum of 15-days between requests.
- Make a third request in writing and sign in the presence of at least two witnesses, one of whom can neither be related nor stand to gain financially from the person’s death.
- Be able to self-administer the medication; no one can assist.
- The person is counseled about feasible treatment alternatives like hospice, palliative and comfort care.
- The person may rescind the request at any time, and is under no obligation to take the medication.
- The person is informed about safe-keeping the medication as well as proper disposal if the medication is not used.
- If either physician feels the person did not fully understand the nature of the request, or feels there might be coercion or duress motivating the request, the person must be referred for a psychological or psychiatric evaluation.
Other protections under the law:
- The person’s medical records are private.
- The death certificate will list the underlying illness as the cause of death.
- An insurance company cannot deny payment on a health, annuity or life insurance policy because someone used the law.
- Participating healthcare providers are immune from any civil or criminal liability.
- Healthcare providers do NOT have to participate.
It does NOT apply to someone who is neither cognitively impaired with Alzheimer’s, for example, nor to someone who is in an unconscious state. Only the dying person can initiate a request — no one can make a request on behalf of another – and self-administer the medication.
I’ll conclude by saying that medical aid in dying does not cause more people to die; it allows fewer people to suffer! If you would like to be involved in the Colorado Access Campaign, or receive more information, go to the website for Compassion & Choices. We won this battle, now let’s spread our wings and make sure we enable those who want to die with dignity to win the war.
Randi assisted the Colorado End-of-Life Options Campaign in 2016 and will continue to volunteer with the Colorado Access Campaign in 2017 to help facilitate the implementation of the Colorado End-of-Life-Options Act. She is currently the volunteer coordinator with Mountain Valley Developmental Services and maintains a business consulting practice. She also serves as the president of the Valley View Foundation Board of Directors and participates on the Colorado Mountain College Roaring Fork Advisory Council.