New Colorado law could take ef­fect by end of year

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jen­nifer Brown

Coloradans with ter­mi­nal ill­ness soon can be­gin mak­ing writ­ten re­quests for life-end­ing pre­scrip­tions un­der the state’s new aid-in-dy­ing law, and authors of the law say mul­ti­ple peo­ple al­ready have in­quired.

“I fully ex­pect peo­ple to be­gin re­quest­ing pre­scrip­tions on the first day that the law is ef­fec­tive,” said Kat West, na­tional di­rec­tor of pol­icy and pro­grams for Com­pas­sion & Choices, which ran the end-of-life op­tions cam­paign in Colorado.

The law, ap­proved by about two-thirds of vot­ers Nov. 8, goes into ef­fect as soon as Gov. John Hick­en­looper cer­ti­fies the elec­tion re­sults, ex­pected be­tween now and the end of De­cem­ber.

Com­pas­sion & Choices, the na­tion’s largest non­profit fo­cused on end-of-life care, has helped pass med­i­cal-aid-in-dy­ing laws in five other states. The group an­nounced Wed­nes­day that it is launch­ing a bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion

cam­paign for Colorado pa­tients and med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, in­clud­ing two statewide hot­lines that physi­cians and phar­ma­cists can call for con­fi­den­tial con­sul­ta­tion with other pro­fes­sion­als. The phar­macy hot­line will of­fer as­sis­tance in find­ing phar­ma­cies that of­fer the life-end­ing med­i­ca­tion, whether sec­o­bar­bi­tal or some other less ex­pen­sive com­bi­na­tion of drugs.

The ter­mi­nally ill per­son must self-ad­min­is­ter the med­i­ca­tion by drink­ing about 4 ounces of liq­uid. Usu­ally the per­son falls asleep within min­utes and dies in one to two hours, said Holly Arm­strong, spokes­woman for Com­pas­sion & Choices.

The non­profit also is cre­at­ing a team of 25 doc­tors, nurses, so­cial work­ers and psy­chi­a­trists who will travel Colorado and of­fer we­bi­nars to ed­u­cate hospi­tals, hos­pices and doc­tors’ of­fices on the new law. So far, about a dozen med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als have been trained and will vol­un­teer to pro­vide the peer ed­u­ca­tion, West said.

Dr. David Grube, med­i­cal di­rec­tor for Com­pas­sion & Choices and who has writ­ten pre­scrip­tions un­der Oregon’s 22-year-old “death­with-dig­nity” law, also will con­sult with Colorado physi­cians seek­ing ad­vice. Ed­u­ca­tional videos in English and Span­ish are posted on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site.

Ter­mi­nally ill pa­tients must fill out a re­quest form, now avail­able on the Com­pas­sion & Choices web­site. The Colorado De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health and En­vi­ron­ment will keep the form, along with an at­tend­ing-physi­cian form, and track the num­ber of peo­ple who seek to use the law.

Doc­tors do not have to par­tic­i­pate in the law, but “we are hop­ing that ev­ery physi­cian will pro­vide ac­cu­rate, non­judg­men­tal, com­pas­sion­ate in­for­ma­tion” to their pa­tients, West said. Com­pas­sion & Choices plans to keep track of hospi­tal, hospice and other med­i­cal of­fice poli­cies on the aid-in­dy­ing law, and will put a “find care” tool on its web­site so peo­ple can search by ZIP code to lo­cate med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als par­tic­i­pat­ing in the law.

A Colorado Med­i­cal So­ci­ety sur­vey of its mem­ber­ship ear­lier this year found that 56 per­cent of doc­tors were in fa­vor of med­i­cal aid in dy­ing, while 35 per­cent were op­posed or “strongly” op­posed. Some doc­tors have said they will not write pre­scrip­tions un­der the law, and hospi­tals with re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion could de­cline to par­tic­i­pate.

Among those grate­ful for the “peace of mind” the law brings is Matt Lar­son, a Den­ver at­tor­ney di­ag­nosed with brain can­cer in 2015 at age 35. Af­ter surgery, chemo­ther­apy and ra­di­a­tion, Lar­son is in re­mis­sion, although doc­tors say there is a 50 per­cent chance the can­cer will re­turn. He hopes to “beat the odds,” but if faced with an “ag­o­niz­ing and painful death,” Lar­son prefers to have the op­tion of dy­ing on his own terms.

“Med­i­cal aid in dy­ing has be­come a very per­sonal is­sue for my wife and me and my en­tire fam­ily,” he said.

Com­pas­sion & Choices is mak­ing the launch cam­paign bilin­gual to reach Colorado’s grow­ing Latino com­mu­nity, which is more likely to wait to dis­cuss death and dy­ing “un­til the very end,” West said.

The cam­paign en­cour­aged peo­ple to ask their doc­tors how they would re­spond to a med­i­cal-aidin-dy­ing re­quest, and said doc­tors should pre­pare them­selves for those con­ver­sa­tions. “If they wait un­til the first pa­tient asks about it, it’s too late,” West said.

The hot­line for doc­tors is 800247-7429. For phar­ma­cist con­sul­ta­tion, call 503-943-6517.

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