Colorado “Death with Dignity” bill likely to resurface in 2016
Steamboat Springs — Dr. Charlie Hamlin hopes that if he one day suffers a stroke and finds himself bedridden and in misery that he will have the option to sip a lethal wine cocktail and peacefully fade into death.
The act wouldn’t be suicide, Hamlin thinks, but a personal decision to choose when he would like to die, rather than continue suffering.
“What I really want for myself and you, is to have some choice and control at the end of life,” Hamlin said.
At 76, the Denver-based surgeon and part-time Steamboat Springs resident is a vocal member of a growing movement to pass so-called “Death with Dignity” legislation across the country.
He spoke last week to a packed audience at Library Hall during an “Exploring Death with Dignity” panel discussion, part of the library’s ongoing Health Perspectives Series.
The legislation, a version of which was considered in Colorado last year and expected to be on the table again in 2016, would allow terminally ill Coloradans with a sound mind to request a lethal dose of barbiturates and potentially decide when to end their lives.
The proposal on the table in Colorado last year mirrored Oregon’s legislation, which requires a patient receive a terminal diagnosis from two doctors and to make two requests for the lethal dose at least 15 days apart, among other requirements.
California Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed the “End of Life Option Act,” making California the fifth state with such legislation, joining Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont.
Opponents of such laws consider the legislation physician-assisted suicide. Some opponents are religious and think God should decide when death occurs, while others think the legislation could lead to a slippery slope where people take advantage of the legislation to quicken the death of the disabled, elderly, uninsured, uneducated or poor.
“We believe it’s God’s will when we should die,” said Father Ernest Bayer, from Steamboat’s Holy Name Catholic Church during last week’s discussion. “We accept death, but we don’t try to hasten it along. A person has no obligation to extend their life by extraordinary means, but we should let the body die of its own natural means.”
Also speaking during the Tuesday night panel were Vicki Barron, a nurse from the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association’s Hospice and Palliative Care team and Amy Ibarra, director of service coordination for Horizon’s, which helps people with developmental disabilities.
Ibarra said she represented the slippery slope argument, and said in the past she’d had a medical professional suggest the quality of life of a disabled person wasn’t worth fighting for, an idea that causes concern about the legislation.
“This population is a little bit afraid of this type of legislation,” Ibarra said. “We would really have to look at the law that comes out to see what our role would come out to be.”
Barron sought to clarify the role of hospice as a supportive place for families, and said a hospice group would never make or encourage an end of life decision for a person, but did support a person’s right to make that choice.
“We’re not here to take the life or end the life, we’re here to support the life,” Barron said.
Barron also stressed that apart from any new legislation, adults need to plan advanced directives to consider how they would like to be cared for if ever unable to speak for themselves.
State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush said she expects the legislation be introduced again in 2016, and said it will be important to look more closely at California’s new legislation, which she thinks has more safeguards than Oregon’s law.
She said last year’s House Judiciary Committee heard moving testimony and were left with concerns about protecting the rights of the elderly, low income and disabled.
“I have read that California’s new law has more safeguards than Oregon’s and provides for better documentation and oversight to prevent abuse. I think we need to learn a lot more and listen carefully to all points of view. Last year, I heard strong, deeply and honestly felt arguments for and against the 2015 bill from my constituents,” Mitsch Bush said.
Last Tuesday’s panel discussion ended with a passionate Q&A session with the panel and members of the community.
Many were supporters of possible legislation coming to Colorado, while several had concerns or sought more information to understand who would qualify to receive aid in dying.
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