Medical aid-in-dying triumphs

Colorado has become the sixth state to authorize medical aid-in-dying.

Early returns show Proposition 106 has resounding approval from voters. It was one of the first statewide races called Tuesday evening. As of 10:35 p.m, with 25 of 64 counties reporting, 65 percent of voters had given a nod to the measure and 35 percent opposed it.

The measure will allow mentally competent adults with less than six months to live to receive a prescription for life-ending drugs. Two doctors must agree on a terminal diagnosis and prognosis. The patient can take the drug when and where he or she wishes, as long as it is self-administered.

“Today is really a great day for Colorado voters. What they have clearly said is what they are looking for is to be in control of their end-of-life options,” said Kim Callinan, chief program officer, for Compassion & Choices, the Denver-based group leading the aid-in-dying movement nationally.

She called Colorado the “second domino to fall” after aid-in-dying was signed into law in California last October. “We’re anticipating that after Colorado, many more dominoes will fall throughout the nation in the coming years.”

The group managed to pass medical aid-in-dying measures in Oregon and Washington state. The policy became law in Montana after a court ruling there. And, in Vermont, it was enacted by state lawmakers.

The pro-106 Voices of the Colorado campaign included cancer patients, and friends and families of Coloradans who have died after prolonged, painful illnesses.

Supporters out-raised and outspent the opposition, which was funded largely by the Catholic Church and various conservative Christian denominations and groups such as Focus on the Family.

The face of the opposition was disability rights attorney Carrie Ann Lucas, who argued that the measure degraded the lives of disabled Coloradans and put them at risk of foul play by tired caregivers.

“I think the opponents did a good job of telling people what they want this measure to be, but not what it is,” Lucas said Tuesday evening from her home in Windsor. She hopes lawmakers “will step in and fix the law so it actually reflects what voters were promised – that it’ll be limited to people who are actually terminally ill and ensure that only people who are competent are actually taking advantage of this law.”

The Colorado Independent sponsored a debate in October between Lucas and Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices. See the video here.

At a suite at the Westin hotel in downtown Denver, Coombs Lee gave a champagne toast with supporters. Julie Selsberg cried upon seeing Proposition 106 pass. Her late father Charlie Selsberg suffered from ALS and rallied for a medical aid-in-dying law. Without the option, he chose to starve himself to death in 2014.

“It is very hard to absorb on so many levels,” she said. “One way, it’s a win for people who are suffering at the end of a terminal illness. But there’s still a lot of hurt to know that my dad would have wanted this and it would have given him great comfort in his last dying days if it had been an option.”

The pro-106 campaign’s Facebook page blew up with celebration Tuesday evening, with many posters dedicating the victory to loved ones who died too late to benefit from the law.

“Thank You Colorado!!! I watched my beloved brother die in agony. This doesn’t have to happen to another person in Colorado!!!” wrote Janet Jo Smith.

Added Angela Downing: “How do I volunteer to help make this happen for Arizona???”

Photo by Jen McClellan