Death with Dignity legislation being drafted in Colorado

DENVER- State Rep. Joann Ginal (D-Fort Collins) is currently drafting legislation that would create an Oregon style "Death with Dignity" law in Colorado. She says she's not positive if she'll officially sponsor and present a bill yet as the draft is still in the early stages.

Now legal in five states, aid in dying laws allow physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill patients. Those seeking this medication want to end the pain and suffering the final days bring by taking medicine that essentially allows them to fall asleep and die peacefully.

RELATED: Without Colorado law, man plans to take his own life

RELATED: A look at Oregon's Death with Dignity law

"Like an insurance policy, (it's) a comfortable feeling that if you need to use it, it's there. A lot of people have the prescription but have never used it," said Ginal.

Several religious groups, namely the Catholic Church, have always been staunchly opposed to this kind of life ending treatment. In a previous interview with 9NEWS, Dr. Alan Rastrelli, a Catholic deacon and a palliative care doctor, expressed that life is sacred from conception to the last natural breath, and that "assisted suicide" is not natural.

But it's not just religious groups who want to keep doctors from having the ability to end a life. Disability advocacy groups across the country worry about the implications of these laws. They fear those with disabilities will be coerced into using the law to end their lives early.

Anita Cameron is nearly blind, has multiple sclerosis and suffers from a condition called cerebellar ataxia. She sits on the board of a national disability organization called "Not Dead Yet."

"This right to die is going to turn into the duty to die because people will be coerced," Cameron said.

It's a concern often voiced by groups like "Not Dead Yet." They fear that people with disabilities and the elderly, with worsening conditions, may be pressured into seeking life-ending medication even if they do not really want to die.

"As your condition progresses, you require more care or more services, you are more apt to feel, I don't want to be a burden to my family," Cameron said.

Right to die advocates, and legislators such as Ginal, insist that Oregon, which Ginal is modeling her legislation after, has safeguards in place to prevent such abuse.

Ginal says that if she does present a bill it will include a requirement, as in Oregon, that two physicians agree the patient is terminally ill and has only six months to live. Also, two witnesses must sign off on the medication being issued, one of which cannot be a relative of the patient.

Compassion and Choices has been advocating for "Death with Dignity" legislation across the country for many years. They recently stepped into a bigger spotlight when Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill woman with brain cancer, decided to end her own life, advocating for Compassion and Choices and their mission very publicly in her final weeks.

Compassion and Choices says there has not been any evidence of abuse in the states that currently have these laws. They also say many people who go through the legal process of getting the medication don't actually take it. But, Cameron says even with the safeguards, a Death with Dignity bill presents other problems.

"To me this will embolden insurance companies to seek death of us over treatment," she said. Cameron worries that because ending life is cheaper than keeping someone alive, insurance companies will take advantage of patients.

But, if Ginal's bill does mirror Oregon law, it would not be able to affect insurance policies. It's one of many components Ginal is addressing in the draft process.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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