Colorado’s Citizen Legislature – Feb. 2016

~ By Doris Beaver ~

Welcome back to a new production of action under the Gold Dome, also known as the Colorado General Assembly. One of probably the most controversial issues facing the 2016 legislative session is end-of-life options for terminally ill individuals. With such controversial issues, identical or near identical bills are often introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives, thus presenting twice the opportunity of getting the bill passed.

House Bill 16-1054 and Senate Bill 16-025 face committees made up of very different legislators with incredibly diverse backgrounds and opinions on the matter, facing life as an “older” adult, rarely without aches, pains and far too often, illnesses for which there is no cure, just as the reader faces. Only HB 1054 will be covered in this column.

House Bill 16-1054 is titled “Ending-of-Life Options for Individuals With a Terminal Illness,” and creates the “Colorado End-of-Life Options Act,” which allows individuals with a terminal illness to request and self-administer life-ending medication from a physician under certain conditions.

The reason behind the bill gives fair warning this will be an extremely complicated, continuous piece of legislation, and signals the likelihood of dramatic revisions, and as in prior years, such legislation could be completely deleted after the words “Be It Enacted,” and rewritten – this could very well be the case for HB 1054 and SB 025.

Background information provided in the fiscal impact analysis by the Colorado Legislative Council includes:

  • Oregon (passed in 1994), Washington (2009), Vermont (2013) and California (2015) have life-ending medication laws;
  • Oregon: since inception, 24 individuals requested medication, 16 used the medication, with requests increased to 155 with 105 using the medication; and
  • Washington: 65 requested, 36 used the medication, with requests increasing to 176 and use by 126 individuals.

As introduced the bill has very specific requirements that must be met by the requesting individuals as set forth in the Colorado Revised Statutes. Also established in the bill are:

  • Attending physician requirements including disclosures and recommendations that must be made by the physician to the requesting individual, referral to a second consulting physician to confirm diagnosis of a terminal illness, referral for mental health counseling in certain conditions, and the process for issuing and filling prescriptions for life-ending medication;
  • Death certificates and procedures to be signed by attending physician, requires underlying terminal illness to be listed as cause of death, and not reportable for post-mortem inquiry by the coroner;
  • Criminal penalties to be imposed for willfully altering or forging a request for life-ending medication or destroying or concealing a rescission, with the intent to cause the death of a person with a terminal illness, and coercing or exerting undue influence on a person with a terminal illness to request life-ending medication;
  • Limits on liability provide that physicians participating in the process of prescribing life-ending medication are not subject to civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action when acting within the parameters of the bill, but there is no limit on civil liability for damages for negligent or intentional misconduct by any person in the process.

Opt-Out Provisions mean physicians and pharmacists are not obligated to prescribe or dispense life-ending medication. A health care facility may prohibit providers on its premises from prescribing or dispensing life-ending medication, with notification of such a prohibition required to be in writing – violation of such may be subject to sanctions, including loss of medical staff privileges or the termination of a lease or contract.

Sponsors of House Bill 16-1054: Representatives Lois Court (D-Denver) 866-2967, and Joann Ginal (D-Larimer) 866-4569; Senator Michael Merrifield (D-El Paso) 866-6364.

Doris Beaver

Doris Beaver

Doris Beaver is a free lance journalist who writes from her home high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains on senior issues, politics, ethics and environmental issues. Visit her website www.dorisbeaver.com or e-mail her at doris@dorisbeaver.com.


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