10 choose life-end­ing drugs

Colorado’s au­thor­i­ties won’t re­lease pre­scrip­tion fig­ures un­til the end of the year.

The Denver Post - - NEWS -

Colorado’s law al­low­ing ter­mi­nally ill pa­tients to seek life-end­ing drugs is qui­etly un­der­way, with an es­ti­mated 10 pre­scrip­tions filled since vot­ers ap­proved the prac­tice last year, ad­vo­cates say.

Com­pas­sion & Choices, the na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion that pushed the bal­lot ini­tia­tive in Novem­ber, pro­vided the tally, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to know how many peo­ple took the drugs, Colorado Pol­i­tics re­ported Tues­day.

State health au­thor­i­ties won’t re­lease fig­ures on pre­scrip­tions un­til the end of the year.

Colorado joined Ore­gon, Cal­i­for­nia, Montana, Ver­mont, Wash­ing­ton state and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in al­low­ing doc­tor-as­sisted sui­cide. But dozens of Colorado hos­pi­tals won’t par­tic­i­pate. About one-third of the state’s hos­pi­tals are Catholic-af­fil­i­ated.

Doc­tors can choose to write pre­scrip­tions in their of­fices and al­low pa­tients to end their lives at home.

The Colorado Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health and En­vi­ron­ment plans to re­port by the end of the year how many doc­tors han­dled pre­scrip­tions, but it won’t say how many peo­ple took the drugs.

Ad­vo­cates say about one in three peo­ple pre­scribed life-end­ing drugs don’t take them.

Patti James, an 81-year-old from Lit­tle­ton with lung can­cer, said that de­ci­sion should be hers. She has fought can­cer for 11 years and said she can’t take any more ra­di­a­tion. “I’ve had a long run with it.”

James said her choice to live or die, when the time is right, will be a per­sonal and pri­vate one. She cam­paigned last year for the law.

“We met so many peo­ple beg­ging us to get this passed,” James said. “Not just sick peo­ple, but peo­ple who want to have this op­tion avail­able if they ever needed it.”

In Cal­i­for­nia, health of­fi­cials late last month re­ported num­bers from the first six months of its med­i­cally as­sisted sui­cide law, which went into ef­fect in June 2016. A to­tal of 191 peo­ple in the na­tion’s most pop­u­lous state re­ceived life-end­ing drugs af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with hav­ing less than six months to live, and 111 peo­ple took the med­i­ca­tion and died. The out­comes of 59 oth­ers who re­ceived the pre­scrip­tions were not re­ported by their doc­tors, health of­fi­cials said.

Colorado law­mak­ers tucked $44,000 into the bud­get dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion that ended in May to help in­form doc­tors with pa­tients who might ask about the new law and pur­sue the op­tion. But Repub­li­can state Sen. Kevin Lund­berg ar­gued against it. “This is not the job of a doc­tor, and it’s cer­tainly not the job of the gov­ern­ment.”

Ad­vo­cates like James say the new law em­pow­ers pa­tients. “I’ve al­ways felt there had to be a kinder, more peace­ful way to go.”

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