Colorado End-Of-Life Options Act

Colorado voters approved the End-of-Life Options Act which is also referred to as the medical aid-in-dying law in 2016.  This law enables your doctor to prescribe medication for you to bring about your own death.  To exercise this option, you must submit a written request to your doctor and you must: 1) be terminally ill with a prognosis of six months or less; 2) have the mental capacity to make an informed decision; and 3) be a resident of Colorado.  The right to request medical aid-in-dying does not exist because of age or disability.  Your doctor must discuss with you, your diagnosis and prognosis, feasible alternatives or additional treatment opportunities, risks associated with taking the prescribed medication and the possibility that you could obtain the medication but choose not to use it.

This new law is not forced upon you, and it does not affect your Living Will.  Your doctor, and or the facility (hospital, nursing home, etc.) are not required to provide this service, but they must provide notice to you if they will not honor a request by you for this assistance. This law is intended to alleviate suffering.  The definition of medical aid in dying is “the medical practice of a physician prescribing medical aid-in-dying medication to a qualified individual that the individual may choose to self-administer to bring about peaceful death.”

The medical aid-in-dying law relieves a physician of liability for intervening to help a person end his or her life.  The Affordable Care Act and other federal laws restrict Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans’ medical care from paying for “assisted suicide, euthanasia or mercy killing,” so these medications will not be readily available because they are very expensive and the expense is not covered under federally funded health care services.  The drugs must also be self-administered which may be difficult for many people. These types of laws have been approved in the following districts or states:  Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Washington, D.C. and Montana.

In 2019, 170 patients received prescriptions for aid-in-dying medications under the Colorado End-Of-Life Options Act.  In 2019 the median age of patients prescribed aid-in-dying medication was 72 (minimum age mid-20s, oldest age upper 90s).  Among patients prescribed aid-in-dying medication, some of the most common illness or conditions were cancer, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, COPD, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, stroke and vascular diseases.  In 2018 the total number of patients prescribed aid-in-dying medication was 123 and in 2017, 72 patients. Among patients who died after taking aid-in-dying prescriptions written in 2019, the median duration of time between prescription date and date of death was 17 days.  Not all people who are prescribed the medication will take it, some may change their mind or die of the underlying condition before taking the medication. 

As an elder law attorney, I can appreciate this law for the people who are suffering and want to end their life on earth with dignity, but I worry about the potential for elder abuse. 

Tamra K. Waltemath

Tamra K. Waltemath

This article was written by Tamra K Waltemath of Tamra K. Waltemath, P.C.  This information is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  For specific questions, you should consult a qualified attorney. Tamra K. Waltemath is an elder law attorney focusing on wills, trusts, estate and trust administration, probate and non-probate transfers, guardianships and conservatorships.  She can be contacted at:  Tamra K. Waltemath, P.C., 3843 West 73rd Avenue, Westminster, CO  80030; 303-657-0360; or visit her website at: www.WaltemathLawOffice.com.

Comments

  1. It is timely that we address the pitfalls of Oregon-type death laws.

    The mandatory falsification of death certificates skews the public medical data base unnecessarily.
    The realization that induced premature deaths are not peaceful nor rapid 25-72% of the time, quantified in the study by Bill Gallerizzo, is a call for amendments — amendments to ban the use of drugs deemed cruel for death row, for official assisted suicides where applicable and unofficial hastened deaths.

    That would stir the backwaters of stealth euthanasia currently escaping scrutiny.
    There are other amendment needs, like provide for a witness to our choice of the “self-administration.” As it is, with no oversight, 17-21% of the subjects experience forced premature deaths to satisfy their facilitators.

    These three amendments would bring much needed transparency to the administration of the public policy.
    Bradley Williams,
    Care Giver

    • Hi Bradley, thanks for your comment. I have seen so little research on this – I’d love to know how to locate the study you said Bill Gallerizzo did, and also where you find statistics like the 17-21%. I am curious who is able to do research and how they’re finding people to talk to. Take good care of yourself and thanks, Kim

  2. I hear your concerns for Colorado’s elderly residents. Thankfully, safeguards are in place with all aid in dying laws in the US. As you mentioned, an individual cannot choose this option due simply to age or disability. They must have a terminal illness. Having two different physicians talk with the patient allows unique perspectives and either physician can refuse the patient or make a referral for further mental health evaluation. Many hospital systems have patients working with social workers as well. Aid in dying is an option for terminally ill patients who want to live, but are going to die. This end of life path allows them to choose when and how they leave this world and that can be of enormous comfort.
    There are over forty collective years of data from Oregon and Washington with no reports of abuse. I urge you to bring together your senior clients and their families and invite someone to present on the law and allow people to get questions asked and answered. You can contact Death with Dignity National Center and/or Compassion and Choices for speaker assistance.

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