(CNSNews.com) – Although the Colorado state legislature has rejected physician-assisted suicide two years in a row, Coloradans will be voting on a ballot initiative next month that will determine whether Colorado becomes the sixth state in the U.S. to legalize it.
The measure would allow legal residents over 18 to request “aid-in-dying medication” if they are “diagnosed with a terminal illness that is likely to cause death in six months…[and are] mentally capable of making an informed decision” to kill themselves.
The patient must make two verbal requests for the lethal drugs, with a 15-day waiting period in between, and a third written request must be witnessed by at least one individual who is “not related by blood, marriage, adoption or civil union, and cannot stand to gain financially from the person’s death.”
“End of life decisions are best left to dying people consulting their families, their faith, and their doctors – not the government,” said Jessica Grennan, manager of the Yes on Colorado End-of-Life Options campaign.
“This proposal takes government out of these personal decisions and allows patients to make their own choices about their life based on their health, their family’s input, and their personal religious beliefs.”
But Jeff Hunt, director of Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute, which issued a policy brief on the subject entitled Suicide By Doctor, argues that physician-assisted suicide is not just a personal matter.
In fact, the most vocal opposition to Prop 106 is coming from handicapped Coloradans who are already engaged in a “constant battle” with insurance companies to get the medical treatment they need, he pointed out.
“It’s winning here in Colorado because we’re a libertarian state. And most people will go, ‘You know what? I don’t want to do this, but I don’t want to limit my neighbor from doing it.’ And we’re trying to make the argument that you’re actually inviting a whole lot of people into your end-of-life decisions,” Hunt told CNSNews.com.
“We’re deeply concerned about this whole notion that’s growing within our country - that once you become a burden, you need to take a pill and end your life,” he added.
“The argument they make is appealing: people are suffering. And I think most Americans are very sympathetic to that,” Hunt added. But he pointed out that the process is not always as painless and dignified as proponents want people to believe.
“The drugs that you take to kill yourself are horrible drugs,” Hunt told CNSNews. “This is not you just go to sleep and you’re done.
"There are horror stories coming out of Washington and Oregon where people had to call 911 because they didn’t administer the drugs properly. They had to be rushed to the hospital and they died a painful death there, because your body rejects these drugs. A lot of people throw them back up. And the doctor doesn’t even need to be present at the time the drugs are administered. It’s terrible.
“And they’re starting to catalogue this, because this really is going to be the next social battle for the next 20 years with the amount of money that the Left is pouring into this issue,” Hunt predicted.
Assisting a person to commit suicide is currently a felony in Colorado, but Prop 106 would grant civil and criminal immunity to any healthcare provider who prescribes a fatal dose.
Opponents say that’s one of many reasons why Coloradans should vote against it.
“Although the bill lays out specific eligibility requirements and a detailed process by which people may request and receive life-ending drugs, the bill completely lacks any requirement for documentation, oversight, or enforcement,” Jennifer Ballentine, vice president of the Colorado Springs-based Hospice Analytics, wrote in a February 12 oped in The Denver Post.
“Quite simply, all the so-called ‘safeguards’ in the bill are a fairy tale.”
“They’ve tried to put in safeguards that require the person to receive a terminal diagnosis that they’re going to die in six months, but studies show that upwards of 30 percent of diagnoses within that six-month window are incorrect,” Hunt pointed out, including a man with terminal brain cancer who lived for 10 years after doctors told him he had just six months.
“There’s almost no oversight. The only people that are actually tracking what’s happening are the doctors themselves," Hunt continued. "They will fill out reports on what they’ve done, and the Health Department will review a sample of those. But there’s really no independent overview," he said.
“It also opens up doctor shopping. There’s no requirements whatsoever that your primary physician be the one who recommends [assisted suicide]. In fact, your primary physician could say ‘absolutely no’ and you could go to a local podiatrist who’s set up shop, and they could begin the process to prescribe you [life-ending] drugs.
“And what’s just crazy about it is that [doctors] get complete immunity, The legal requirements to prosecute a doctor involved with this is so high that it’s even above traditional medical negligence.”
However, proponents of Prop 106 point to Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide was legalized in 1994, as proof it will not create any medical or ethical problems in Colorado.
“The argument that they’re making here in Colorado is that they’ve been practicing doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon for 20 years without any problems, and that’s just simply not true,” Hunt told CNSNews. “There’s zero oversight of the whole process. The truth is that they have no way of knowing if there are any problems.
“What happened in the early 2000s was that state-based Medicaid services were sending letters to people saying that we won’t pay for the more expensive treatment to keep you alive, but we will pay for the drugs to kill you.
“This moves from what’s called a ‘right to die’ to a duty to die, forcing you to have to make these choices simply based on costs. And so that’s one of the big philosophical problems we have with it," he said.
“The other philosophical problem is that it breaks the bonds between doctor and patient, and between parents and children. You’re now creating stress for the elderly, telling them that they’ve become a burden and there’s an easier way out.
“One of the other big problems we’ve seen in Oregon is that they have no idea what’s happened to about half of the drugs that were sent out. There’s no way to track them, so if people decided not to take them, those drugs could still be sitting in Grandma and Grandpa’s medicine cabinet,” he noted.
“It is our hope that the voters of Colorado recognize the flawed logic of those supporting this effort – namely that it is illogical for the state to promote and/or facilitate suicide for one group of persons – calling the suicides of those with a terminal illness and a specific prognosis ‘dignified and humane’ – while recognizing suicide as a serious statewide public health concern in all other circumstances, and spending enormous resources to combat it.”
“The Colorado Medical Society has been neutral on this issue, and this is the first time they’ve done that, which I think is a story in itself,” Hunt told CNSNews.
“Compassion & Choices is not only [about] legalizing doctor-assisted suicide, but changing not only the original Hippocratic Oath – which actually gets into this very same issue - but the relationship between doctors and patients. So by getting medical societies to now start being neutral is actually really changing the nature of medicine itself from ‘Do no harm’.
“Every state is going to be facing this in the next few years,” Hunt predicted. “They’ve been going after about every single state legislature. They’re not winning at the state legislatures, with the exception of California, because state legislators - when they look at the threat to handicapped and disabled communities and getting insurance companies involved – even Democrats are coming out against this,” he said.
“So they’re now trying different routes, like the ballot initiative. This is how they are trying to get to euthanasia, which is what they’ve done in Belgium and Holland, where you just go to the hospital and they give you a shot“ to kill you.