DENVER (CBS4) – Dozens of people testified to a Colorado house committee on Friday during the first hearing of a bill some state lawmakers call “the Death with Dignity Act.”
If passed, the bill would allow terminally ill patients to take medication that would kill them.
It’s modeled after a law that’s been in place in Oregon for 16 years. It would require a person be mentally competent and within six months of death, as determined by at least two different doctors.
The person would have to make a verbal request and two written requests for the medicine and would have to be able to administer it themselves.
Testimony started at 10 a.m. and lasted into the evening, and it got emotional many times.
Rep. Joann Ginal, a Democrat who represents Fort Collins, told committee members her bill is about personal freedom. It provides a choice in the final stages of life, she says.
“Death with dignity act is a compassionate response to unremitting suffering,” she said.
Carrie Ann Lucas opposes the measure, saying it is a choice people already have.
“We don’t need to involve the government in doing this. We don’t need to involve this state in doing this,” Lucas said.
Lucas says the bill would hurt people with disabilities like her. She gave her testimony from a wheelchair.
“This assisted suicide bill is discriminatory because certain people with certain disabilities and illnesses will get suicide prevention (counseling) while others will be encouraged or even coerced to kill themselves,” said Anita Cameron, another opponent with a disability.
Supporter Julie Selsberg told the committee the bill is for those like her dad who knew he was dying and just wanted a say in how.
“You are not making a choice to kill anyone, you are making a choice to give them control over their deaths,” she said.
“Do not turn your backs on the terminally ill. Let their testimony weigh down your bodies like their diseases weight down theirs.”
Selsberg said the pain management hospice offers doesn’t work for everyone.
Dr. David Hibbard is a hospice physician who has Parkinson’s Disease and leukemia.
“I think I deserve the right to die when and where and how choose once my condition becomes terminal,” he said.
“People and physicians may not want end their lives through a prescribed medication and I honor their decision and their choice, but I don’t believe they should have the right to control how I die because I believe differently.”
Disability advocates countered there simply aren’t enough safeguards.
“People will die needlessly when insurance companies refuse to pay the necessary medications and treatment and instead offer to pay for a much cheaper lethal prescription,” Lucas said.
In a video shows during the hearing, Charlie Hatchet, who has since passed away, said there are valid objections but made a case for passage.
“Compassion is the surest guide to making humane end-of-life decisions,” he said in the video.
The sponsors of the bill say the Oregon law has been in place for over 16 years with no evidence of abuse.
As of 5 p.m. on Friday night it wasn’t clear what the fate of the bill was. It would need to go before the full house before heading over to the state Senate.