Give me liberty at my death

givemelibertyIt happened this week. A bill proposing the Colorado Death with Dignity Act was introduced in the Colorado General Assembly. I’m trying to temper my excitement. I want so much for it to pass, but I’m soured on politics and the way government seems to work (or not work) these days. Worthwhile bills get buried and never see the light of day. Bad, ill-considered, or dangerous bills get passed.

Colorado is a tough call, especially for someone like me who’s only lived here ten years. There are very conservative elements, mostly in Colorado Springs and rural areas. Denver, Boulder, and most front range communities are quite liberal. In this state we protect gun rights and we legalize marijuana. I’ve no idea how something like Death with Dignity will be viewed, but I can imagine a real dogfight between the liberal and conservative extremes. I suspect it will be like gay marriage and abortion: Conservatives will oppose it on religious grounds; suicide is always wrong. Liberals will say everyone should have the option; “if you don’t want one, don’t get one.” And the medical community will tread the rocky middle ground with all kinds of ethical, moral, professional, and legal considerations.

A 2007 report from the Pew Research Center summarized the debate:

Opponents of physician-assisted suicide – including some medical groups, such as the American Medical Association; some disability-rights advocates; and some more socially conservative religious groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Jews and evangelical Protestant denominations – argue that suicide is a tragedy, not a personal choice. Furthermore, they say, the practice will inevitably lead to abuses, such as patients who might be pressured to take their own lives by family members and others who wish to save money or end the burden of caring for someone with a debilitating illness. In addition, opponents say, doctor-assisted suicide devalues human life by sending a message to the broader culture that some people’s lives are worth less than others. Finally, they contend, physician-assisted suicide is at the top of a very slippery slope that could eventually lead to involuntary euthanasia of people who are severely handicapped or infirm.

Supporters of the practice include some more socially liberal Christian and Jewish religious denominations, some civil rights groups and some organizations that advocate on behalf of the rights of patients, particularly the terminally ill. These groups and others argue that “physician aid in dying” – calling the practice “suicide” unfairly imbues it with negative connotations, they contend – is not about forcing or pressuring anyone but rather is about giving people with no hope of recovery the option to end their lives before their physical pain becomes unbearable or before they fully lose control of their mental faculties. In addition, supporters argue, giving people the option to end their suffering does not devalue human life. On the contrary, they say, physician aid in dying promotes human dignity by allowing those in the last stages of potentially painful and debilitating illnesses to end their lives on their own terms.

Oregon’s 1997 Death with Dignity law is the model for the Colorado proposal and I’d like to think that bodes well for its enactment. Maybe, just maybe, as open-minded as this state has proven it can be, this bill will become law.


Notes: On Friday, Feb. 7, 2015, on an 8-5 bipartisan vote, the bill failed to get out of committee.

On Nov. 8, 2016, Colorado voters approved the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act.


Also on Pied Type:

Death and dying in Colorado
Yes, I support death with dignity



Categories: Health, Law, Society

13 replies

  1. You can be assured I will be watching with great anticipation. Colorado is much closer to Arkansas than Oregon or Washington so I won’t have as far to move… 🙂

  2. I’m with you on this one, PT. That said, I do recognize the potential for abuse and it’s important that the law provide sufficient transparency to the process to protect against that. I also note that it is probably only a minority, and a small one at that, that can and will take advantage of this. Since my retirement I have observed the deaths of a half-dozen relatives and there was only one among them who might have taken advantage of a death-with-dignity law, had it been available. The principal reason for that is the instinctive belief that something other than ourselves is governing our fate.

    The requirements for using such a law wisely are stringent: an educated mind, an absence of superstition, a clear-eyed appreciation of the aging process, and perhaps most importantly, the absence of any kind of dementia. My wife and I are grateful that here, late in life, we haven’t lost our marbles.

    • I read through the Colorado bill and it seemed to cover all the potentials for abuse, including safeguards for some things I hadn’t thought about. I think you’ll agree that those who would benefit from such a law should have that opportunity, even if the number is very small, as it has been in Oregon (752 since the law was passed in 1997). We do not let our pets suffer needlessly before an inevitable death. I don’t know why anyone would insist we humans must do so.

      • “We do not let our pets suffer needlessly before an inevitable death. I don’t know why anyone would insist we humans must do so.”

        We were recently compelled to put down a very beloved German Shepard whose suffering from what the Vet called spinal strokes just kept getting worse and worse. It was a sad time for us, but a peaceful and painless end to his suffering. I save pain pills for myself just in case.

        • I’m sorry to hear that. Pets are family members as far as I’m concerned, and losing one can be wrenching.

          I’d save pills too, if I had any to save. Meantime, the secret in Colorado may be finding the right doctor. Some probably prescribe more liberally than others when the situation warrants it.

  3. The devil will be in the details.
    When there is no hope at all and only pain and agony is left, there should be some compassionate option.
    Sadly, I trust few politicians to write the guidelines.
    They can’t even get that “if you don’t approve of abortions, don’t get one” concept.

    • Well, the bill as introduced seems to be well reasoned. But lord knows what will look like after everyone takes a shot at it. It’s likely to end up being the same sort of hash that Washington cranks out. Unless maybe there are some compassionate legislators who actually stop and think about their parents and grandparents, or even think ahead to their own demise.

  4. Having advocated the right to die for a very long time, I am hopeful that laws will eventually be changed all over the country. Hopefully the Oregon law and the upcoming vote in Colorado are just the leading edge of a revolution in how we look at human rights and the definition of a dignified death.

    • It seems so obvious to me. So logical, compassionate, and humane. Given a choice, who would say “Oh thanks, but I’d rather writhe in agony for a month before I die. It’s nobler to suffer as long as possible before dying. Wouldn’t want to miss that part of it.”

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"There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees." ~ Michel de Montaigne

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