Colorado Health Department Report Shows Medical Aid in Dying Law Continues to Provide Compassionate Option for Terminally Ill Residents

Today’s report from the Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) Vital Statistics Program shows that four years after the implementation of Colorado’s medical aid in dying law, this compassionate option continues to help qualified terminally ill Coloradans peacefully end their suffering in accordance with their own values.  

In 2020, 188 patients were prescribed medical aid-in-dying medications, a 10% increase from the number of prescriptions written in 2019. Of those individuals who received a prescription, 145 went on to obtain the medication. Many qualified patients report that just having the prescription gives them peace of mind.  

There was also a 22% increase in the number of doctors who have written aid-in-dying prescriptions. Over the three previous years of implementation, 130 unique Colorado physicians had written a prescription for a patient; in 2020, that number climbed to 159.

Additionally, the report shows that, while 52% of qualified patients came from the Denver metro area and other Front Range counties, the number of individuals from rural counties increased to 22% of prescriptions written.

“These numbers show exactly what we'd hoped: that more terminally ill Coloradans are aware of their options, that more physicians are being attentive to their patients' needs, and that the law is working exactly as it is intended,” said Sam DeWitt, Compassion & Choices Southwest Regional Campaign & Outreach Manager. “Our advocates are proud that for the second straight year, the number of prescriptions written in rural counties has grown along with the total number. It’s critically important to us that individuals in non-Front Range counties have the same access to a death that is aligned with their values as residents in metro areas.”

“I'm very excited about the increase in the number of doctors who have written the prescription,” said DeWitt. “Those numbers show that more physicians are aware of the law, understand the reporting requirements, and are dedicated to practicing patient-centered care.”

Similar to previous years, 63% of those who received a prescription for medical aid in dying had terminal cancer, followed by progressive neurological disorders like ALS at 14%, cardiovascular disease at 8%, and chronic lower respiratory disease at 7%.

“Medical aid in dying means I can die at home, my safe spot, surrounded by love,” said Silverthorne resident Mimi Ankerholz, who was given a terminal cancer diagnosis in December 2020. “Making this decision was not easy. I really had to weigh my values and the impact on my family. With their support and understanding, I felt free to ask my doctor for an aid-in-dying prescription.”Mimi has received a prescription but has not yet decided whether or when to take it.

The End of Life Options Act, passed by 65% of Colorado voters in 2016, was one of the most popular ballot measures in state history, with over 1.7 million Coloradans supporting this safe, compassionate medical practice. The law authorizes mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can choose to take to die peacefully if their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable. The law took effect on Dec. 16, 2016.

Medical aid in dying is now authorized in ten jurisdictions (California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaiʻi, Oregon, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, Washington, and Vermont) and is available to more than one out of five Americans. Over more than 40 years of combined experience, Compassion & Choices has learned that three of the keys to ensuring individuals may access these laws are: Education of patients and medical providers; removing burdensome regulatory barriers; and good data collection.

Read the full report here: