Election Guide 2016: Proposition 106 — Access to medical aid in dying
Proposition 106 ballot language:
Shall there be a change to the Colorado revised statutes to permit any mentally capable adult Colorado resident who has a medical prognosis of death by terminal illness within six months to receive a prescription from a willing licensed physician for medication that can be self-administered to bring about death; and in connection therewith, requiring two licensed physicians to confirm the medical prognosis, that the terminally-ill patient has received information about other care and treatment options, and that the patient is making a voluntary and informed decision in requesting the medication; requiring evaluation by a licensed mental health professional if either physician believes the patient may not be mentally capable; granting immunity from civil and criminal liability and professional discipline to any person who in good faith assists in providing access to or is present when a patient self-administers the medication; and establishing criminal penalties for persons who knowingly violate statutes relating to the request for the medication?
Steamboat Springs — Proposition 106 asks voters whether to create the “Colorado End-of-Life Options Act,” which would be the state’s version of similar “Death with Dignity” legislation already passed in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana and California.
Terminally ill adults with a prognosis of living six months or less could qualify to self-administer a lethal medication under certain conditions to voluntarily end their own life.
Two oral requests, at least 15 days apart, and one written request for the medication must be made by the patient to a primary physician, and both that physician and another must confirm the person’s terminal prognosis and mental capability.
Proponent Dr. Charles Hamlin said that after watching both of his parents experience unnecessary suffering before their deaths, he became a passionate advocate for such legislation.
Hamlin’s father had an untreatable sarcoma, and decided to end his own life by starving himself, while his mother had strokes and lived for a long time in a complete fog, disconnected from her loved ones, said Hamlin, a retired physician who lives on Lynx Pass near Stagecoach.
“The ability of someone who is an adult of sound mind and is dying to want to have a peaceful death on their own terms is becoming a movement because of the older populations and because of the miracles that have happened in medicine (prolonging lives),” Hamlin said.
Opponent Father Ernest Bayer of Holy Name Catholic Church argues that the proposition is for assisted suicide and could lead people to end their lives because they view their condition as too costly or too much of a burden on family members, not necessarily because it’s what they really want.
The proposed law could also lead to a slippery slope, eventually putting the lives of the elderly or disabled in danger, Bayer said.
“It leads to a perspective that at a certain point, someone’s life is no longer worth living,” Bayer said.
Bayer believes that people don’t have to turn to extraordinary measures to prolong the life of someone dying, but they should take advantage of palliative care and pain relief and let life end naturally, as God intended it to.
“Life is a gift from God, and it’s not our prerogative to take that away by murdering someone else or by murdering ourselves,” Bayer said.
Bayer also argues that while the proposed law claims it would only apply to people with a terminal prognosis, there have been numerous cases where someone with a terminal diagnosis has recovered.
“They might have committed suicide if they thought they only had a month to live, but their body could recover from the disease,” Bayer said. “It’s happened before.”
Proponents of the proposition point to states with existing aid-in-dying laws as successful case studies for Colorado.
Oregon passed medical aid-in-dying legislation in 1997, with about 1,500 people requesting the medication over the 19 years it’s been available. Patients cited loss of autonomy and dignity at the end of their lives as primary reasons for getting the medication, and about a third are estimated to have not taken the medication after all.
Hamlin said Colorado’s proposition is similar to other states but includes more safeguards to prevent misuse or abuse.
“It’s quite thorough, and there’s very little opportunity to abuse the criteria, which is an adult of sound mind who is dying,” Hamlin said. “It will not increase deaths. It will decrease suffering at the end.”
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