Steamboat Springs providers consider new right-to-die legislation |

Steamboat Springs providers consider new right-to-die legislation

Charlie Hamlin discusses a person's right to die during a panel discussion about end of life options at Bud Werner Memorial Library in October 2015.
John F. Russell

— As local medical providers wrestle with whether to help facilitate Colorado’s newly passed right-to-die law, it’s unclear whether someone eligible in Routt County would be able to receive a lethal dose of medicine locally.

Routt County voters gave their overwhelming support to Proposition 106, the End-of-Life Options Act, in November, with 10,469 voters in favor, or about 77 percent.

Statewide, the proposition passed with about 65 percent of the vote.

Two months later, physicians statewide are considering whether they’d be a providers who will sign off on a patient receiving a lethal dose of medicine.

Per the law, a person must be terminally ill and have a life expectancy of less than six months, be of sound mind and make two requests for the medication at least 15 days apart.

A primary and secondary physician must verify the patient’s terminal condition, and the patient must be capable of taking the medication his or herself.

Northwest Colorado Health CEO Lisa Brown said the organization is working to determine its position on the new law.

“We are actively learning about the law and determining how to best respond across all our agency’s services,” Brown said.

Brown said Northwest Colorado Health is working with statewide organizations in home health, hospice and community health centers to learn about Oregon’s and California’s similar laws.

“As we do that, we will develop policies that are informed by staff, client and community perspectives,” Brown said. “The final policy approval is done by our community volunteer board of directors.”

For now, Brown said, the organization will address each request on a case-by-case basis.

Board members for Yampa Valley Medical Center in December chose to opt-out of participating in the new law, meaning no patient would be allowed to take life-ending medication at the hospital, and no physician could write a prescription for someone intending to take the medication at the hospital.

Because the majority of doctors at Yampa Valley Medical Center are contracted and not employees, whether those physicians choose to prescribe the medication at another location would be their own choice, said Lisa Kettering, chief medical officer at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

“We don’t have any say over that,” Kettering said.

Kettering said that most patients who have chosen to take the lethal medication in other states have administered it at home rather than in a hospital setting.

In Oregon, 90 percent of people who have taken the medication have done so in their own homes.

She said the board’s decision for the hospital to opt-out now was related to the number of regulations in place to meet the requirements of the law and needs of patients.

The hospital’s choice to opt-out will not affect advance directives, including do not resuscitate orders and other policies regarding end-of-life care, Kettering said.

In the future, the hospital could choose to opt-in and allow terminally ill patients to end their lives at the hospital.

“I know there will be ongoing discussions with our ethics committee to look into it further and continue to assess it,” Kettering said. “You can opt-in at any time.”

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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