DENVER (AP) – Dozens of people described personal journeys of pain endured and pain to come as they testified Wednesday for and against a right-to-die bill before a Colorado Senate committee.
Among them was Joellyn Duesberry, a 71-year-old landscape artist, who told the Republican-dominated Senate panel she has inoperable pancreatic cancer and has already experienced the pain she knows is coming as she slowly dies.
“I have never been a quitter and I am not now,” Duesberry said. “If I could choose a pain-free death today, I also could have a more peaceful life today.”
Opponents began testifying late Wednesday. Lawmakers from both parties voted against similar legislation last year, arguing that it facilitates suicide in cases where a diagnosis may be wrong.
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Bill co-sponsor Sen. Michael Merrifield, a Democrat from Colorado Springs, told the panel he wanted to introduce right-to-die legislation since he became a Colorado lawmaker in 2003, two years after his father died an agonizing death from cancer. He was discouraged then from doing so by party leaders.
Merrifield described the pain, the screams and the morphine-induced coma his father, Kenneth Merrifield, a Baptist preacher, experienced before dying in 2001 at age 73.
“He did not die in the way you’d expect from a man of the cloth,” Merrifield said Wednesday. “This bill is about life and can allow people to decide how to live their final days.”
Oregon passed the first right-to-die law in 1998, followed by Washington, Vermont and, last year, California. Montana’s state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that doctors could use a patient’s request for life-ending medication as a defense against any criminal charges. New York, Arizona and Maryland are among states considering right-to-lie legislation.
Opposition is as fierce as ever, coming from religious, disabled advocacy and physicians’ associations, among others.
Carrie Ann Lucas, a mother of four who suffers a neuromuscular disease, testified Wednesday from a wheelchair that she needs a ventilator to survive daily. She said the bill will open the door to suicide for those disabled or with slowly-developing terminal illnesses, like herself, who become depressed.
“I could simply doctor-shop under this bill to get a lethal prescription,” Lucas said.
The bill’s two Democratic House co-sponsors renamed it the “Colorado End-of-Life Options Act,” after hospice caregivers said last year’s “Death With Dignity Act” suggested other end-of-life care lacked dignity.
Reps. Lois Court of Denver and Joann Ginal of Fort Collins addressed worries the medication can be easily accessible to others by spelling out safeguards for its use or return. A mentally competent patient must get two doctors to sign off after three requests and must have a six-month prognosis.
The bill also strengthens provisions for the safe storage – and return – of lethal drugs, recognizing that a patient can change his or her mind.
Merrifield said he had “no false optimism” that Republican leaders would pass the bill but that Wednesday’s testimony “will give it a little more velocity” in the Democrat-controlled House, where a panel hears it on Thursday.
By James Anderson, AP Writer
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