Death and dying in Colorado

CandC-ColoradoThis Saturday, one day after her husband’s birthday, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard will end her life. An Oregon resident with incurable brain cancer, she has chosen death with dignity rather than suffer what has been described as a horrible way to die. As I’ve noted before, I fully support her decision and wish all mentally competent adults in the US had the same option.

Currently only three states — Oregon, Washington, and Vermont — have death-with-dignity laws on the books, but last night I read there is a nationwide effort to establish such laws in all states. There may be many groups involved, but I happened across Compassion & Choices, the organization Maynard espouses. It’s an interesting website, chock full of detailed information about what’s being done where and detailing the current laws and options in each state. I cannot attest to the validity and accuracy of their information, but it certainly looks both legitimate and comprehensive. At the very least, it’s a place to begin if you are interested in knowing about the options in your state.

I learned, for example, that in Colorado doctors and nurses are not legally bound by my Advance Directive:

Currently, there are no state laws that oblige medical personnel to honor your Advance Directives. Some healthcare providers have values and opinions that do not agree with the wishes you have expressed on either ethical or medical grounds. Because of this, they may not want to follow the directions you have provided. Colorado law allows doctors or healthcare facilities to refuse to honor your Advance Directive on conscience grounds. However, they must help you find another healthcare professional, or facility, willing to honor your wishes.

It’s a bit unnerving to learn my Advance Directive, even if shown to health care personnel, does not guarantee their compliance. Emergency first responders, in particular, are trained to begin CPR and whatever else is necessary to save the patient’s life. Short of tattooing “DNR” or “No CPR” on my chest, I don’t know how to protect against that.

The site says C&C gained passage of “Colorado SB 102, which grants immunity to medical caregivers who unintentionally cause the death of a terminally ill patient as the result of efforts to relieve the patient’s pain.” That appears to give doctors legal protection if they “accidentally” administer too much pain medication and cause a patient’s death. However, I’ve been unable to locate a copy of such a bill and have written to C&C for help.

Colorado has been designated one of the organization’s five “campaign states,” along with California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut, presumably because these states are seen as the ones most likely to be next to enact death-with-dignity laws. I certainly hope so.



Categories: Culture, Health, Law

8 replies

  1. Such a difficult ethical area. Link to Brittany didn’t work for me.

    Back in the UK I knew a GP who was tried for assisted death, or whatever it is called. Sad story all round.

    Life is so precious. Yet, when my father was in hospital and was told he had cancer he refused further intervention. It took less than a month.

    • It’s very difficult. So many people don’t even want to think about it unless and until they are directly confronted with it. And of course, at that point people are too emotional to really think straight. I think it tragic that any physician would be tried for complying with the wishes of a terminally ill patient who is suffering needlessly. Doctors should not be charged with a crime when their only “crime” was compassion.

      I’ve checked that link several times and it looks okay. Sorry you had a problem. Just google Brittany’s name. She’s all over the news. Here’s one of many stories: http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/28/us/bucket-list-woman/index.html

  2. A great, compassionate thought provoking post PT, I cannot agree with you more.Pity I can’t reblog it.

    The pity is we so called civilized societies do not have the couage to do what is right. Some have no problem putting to sleep/death certain convicted felons but when it comes to doing what is right by the terminally sick they baulk.

    How many politicians will campaign on a euthanasia policy and expect to win, how many on a capital punishment and expect to win. I do believe that even here in Australia there are many who would vote for the latter, I also believe that there would be considerably more voting for the former. Pity is they won’t give us the chance to vote.

    What a good person is Brittany she will die gracefully with dignity and with those she loves with her, there will e many tears and much sadness now but she will be remembered as at her best always.

    • I don’t recall ever hearing a politician mention euthanasia during a campaign, no doubt because it would repulse as many people as it attracted. But aside from the heat of a campaign, it’s something that could and should be addressed by someone.

      Brittany is doing everyone a great service by speaking openly about her situation.

  3. My 64-year-old sister lives in Oklahoma and is in poor health. She has been mentally handicapped since birth and is therefore “incompetent”. I looked up Oklahoma on the C&C site and was not surprised to find that even as her guardian I seem to have no say in how her life will be handled in extremis. I completed an advance directive for her, but from the way I read the law, I doubt it will have any effect. Nevertheless, thanks for the link. It’s good to know there are sensible people working on the problem.

    • I somehow overlooked your comment and didn’t reply earlier. My apologies.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your situation. It’s been really disturbing to learn that despite making a point of establishing advance directives to protect ourselves and our loved ones, such documents are not legally binding. What’s the point if they aren’t enforceable?

      Perhaps if you wrote to C&C, someone could advise you or direct you to someone who can.

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