Hate won, but compassion prevails in Colorado with right-to-die laws

Hate won, but compassion prevails in Colorado with right-to-die laws

PoliticsNovember 09, 2016 By Isabelle Kohn

It's too easy right now to feel crushed by what happened last night.

But, even as we recover from the shock and struggle to navigate the tangible sense of distrust, fear and hate in the air, we have to keep in mind that, despite the carnage, positive change still happened.

All across the nation, thoughtful, compassionate legislation was passed quietly, below the radar of the greater Trump saga, and there's no better example this than the right-to-die legislation in Colorado. Here, Proposition 106 succeeded with an overwhelming 65 percent support last night, making it legal for terminally ill patients to end their own lives on their own terms.

The new measure allows Colorado residents over 18 to request assistance to die if they are terminally ill and have less than six months to live. If that sounds at all weird to you, know that there are ample precautions in place under that are designed to prevent potential abuse of the system.

First, the law requires that two separate doctors deem a patient competent enough to make their own life-ending choice. Patients must voluntarily ask for the medicine that would kill them, and when they do, they must also be informed of all of their alternative options. A doctor must offer them multiple opportunities to take back the request for the life-ending medication as well. The patient will also required to self-administer the the dose of the fatal drug, and people with dementia or Alzheimer’s would not be eligible for the prescription because of how those illnesses typically affect mental capacity and competent decision making.

The process of obtaining a prescription for the drug — typically a barbiturate like secobarbital —  takes four weeks or more to complete, so it's not like you can just floor your motorized wheelchair to the nearest Walgreens and pay a visit to God.

Assisted suicide laws like these — which are also sometimes called physician-assisted suicide or “death with dignity”laws — have become a fascinating and increasingly popular public health issue over the last few years.

Supporters say the legislation allows patients to die with compassion and dignity by giving them control over their own physical and mental suffering, something that truly matters for terminally ill patients who would benefit from expanded end-of-life options.

"You shouldn’t have to ask the government for the right to control your own end,” Lance Wright, a former energy consultant and city council member in Parker, who's been fighting for years to pass right-to-die legistlation told us. Wright has Parkinson's disease, and believes he has the right to die with dignity, on his own terms. He sees himself as fighting against “unacceptable government usurpations of the right to self-determination.”

"It’s about respecting a patient’s values and priorities,” Kim Callinan, chief program officer for Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organization that promotes end-of-life options including access to medical aid in dying, told SELF. “It allows the potential to transform end-of-life care.”

Right-to-die also provides peace of mind for dying people and their families. “Aid in dying improves end-of-life care and eases people’s greatest fear, which is unbearable suffering at the end of their life," she said.

Of course, Prop 106 has its opponents; people who'd rather see the end of life play itself out on God's terms than on the patient's. There have been strong arguments from religious groups against the measure, with detractors claiming that it's ethically wrong to help someone take a life in any circumstance. Right-to-die legislation is also often unfavorable to disability activists, who see the "life isn't worth living if you're disabled" subtext of the laws as inherently discriminatory. Others are concerned that legalizing assisted suicide would lead to a “slippery slope” situation where people become too quick to use the option — however, it's unclear whether these opponents are familiar with provisions listed in Prop 106 that would keep Coloradans from doing so.

Colorado is now the sixth state to enact assisted suicide, after Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, and Montana. The procedure has been approved in several European countries, including Belgium, where the first minor was euthanized in September, and the Netherlands, where requests for euthanasia have doubled in the past five years.

And while the right to death seems like an unlikely bedfollow for compassion after this election, it's hard to ignore the buoyant feeling of victory for a good cause. There are people in Colorado, and beyond, celebrating and happy right now because they've just been awarded a fundamental right to make the most important health decision that exists, and regardless of who's in office now, no one can take that away from them.

... At least until the next election cycle.