It 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.
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