Five states currently have “death with dignity” statutes which allow qualified, terminally ill adults to request and receive prescription medication to end their life. Colorado is now one of those states, alongside Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and California. After a failed attempt by the Colorado legislature to pass a death with dignity bill in early 2016, voters passed Proposition 106, the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act, in November 2016.
Colorado’s statute contains rigorous qualification criteria before an individual may request the aid-in-dying medication. First, the individual must be at least eighteen years of age and a resident of Colorado. Second, the individual must be terminally ill, with a prognosis that the individual will live six months or less. The Act defines terminal illness as “an incurable and irreversible illness that will, within reasonable medical judgment, result in death.” Age or disability, absent terminal illness, does not give the right to request medical aid-in-dying.
Due to the nature of the decision to proceed with medical aid-in-dying, the potential psychological ramifications, and the intent behind the Act to allow terminally ill patients to exercise their autonomy, there are stringent requirements regarding how the requests must be completed. An individual who satisfies the criteria above must then make two oral requests for the aid-in-dying medication, separated by at least fifteen days, and a valid written request to his or her attending physician. The Act sets forth a form that the valid written request should follow and also contains witness requirements. The attending physician, in receipt of the requests, is then instructed under the Act to refer the requesting patient to a consulting physician to determine if the patient is mentally capable of making an informed decision, and whether the patient is acting voluntarily.Proponents of the Act think positively of a patient’s legal right to end their pain and suffering and may believe that modern medical advances have enabled life beyond what is in the best interest of the patient. Opponents of the Act may think providing patients the option to receive medical aid-in-dying is a slippery slope or against religious and social mores. Regardless of personal opinions, nearly 65% of Colorado voters supported the Act on election day. For the full text of the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act, consult Colorado Revised Statutes § 25-48-101 et. seq.