By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4) – Coloradans with terminal illness would have more control over their deaths under legislation being drafted at the state Capitol.
The Colorado End of Life Options Act would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medicine to someone who is in the final stages of terminal illness, mentally sound and able to administer the medicine themselves. They would need two diagnoses that their condition is not curable and they would need to make three requests for the medicine, with waiting periods in between each request.
A similar bill failed last session. Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, sponsored the bill. She says she is bringing the bill back because a poll shows 68 percent of Coloradans want it.
“I want to do the job I was hired to do, and I was hired to represent the people of my district and I know the people of my district overwhelmingly want this,” Court said.
Court says the legislation will incorporate some of the concerns raised last session, including safe storage of the medicine.
The group Compassion and Choices is pushing the legislation. It held meetings around the state to mobilize supporters, including Patti James of Littleton. A retired nurse, she says she knew what the future held when her dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He did as well.
“He had a great sense of fear about death … that he would lose some mental capacity and all physical capacity. All of that happened. All he feared happened to him,” James said.
James says her dad died in a nursing home alone.
“That shouldn’t happen to people,” she said. “My father didn’t have an option.”
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Court says her neighbor also didn’t have an option.
“And when his wife called to tell me he died, she said, ‘Lois, I want you to know something. As he lay dying in excruciating pain he asked me to write his last wishes … and the final thing he asked me to write is to tell Lois to pass her bill.'”
Court says the bill doesn’t go far enough for some people who want euthanasia or doctor assisted suicide, and it goes too far for some religious groups. Advocates for the disabled also worry about abuses.
Court says Oregon, which has had a similar law in place for 18 years, has no documented cases of abuse.
“We’re taking a very complex issue and we’re coming up with compromises that we think are reasonable to try and address requests of the people of Colorado,” she said.
The legislation has taken on added significance for Patti James. She now has Stage 3 lung cancer.
“I want to die peacefully. I think it’s my right. And I need to work toward making sure that happens in this state so my children don’t ever feel they should have done more or could have done more like I did with my dad,” James said. “At the end of somebody’s life, when you haven’t been able to be of significant help, you feel guilty, you feel helpless, you feel crazy, because it is crazy making. This has to change. We have a chance to make death a peaceful experience.”
If the legislation doesn’t pass, Court says she wouldn’t be surprised if supporters take the issue to the ballot next year.
Five other states have similar laws in place.