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Supporters Celebrate Progress of Aid in Dying Legislation for Terminally Ill Coloradans

Following hearing, the House Judiciary Committees Advanced the Bill to the Full House

(Denver, Colorado – Feb 4, 2016) Despite the Colorado Senate’s inaction on the Colorado End of Life Options Act yesterday, advocates for the legislation are celebrating today as their bill moves to the House Floor.

“The campaign to give terminally ill Coloradans the option of medical aid in dying had a real victory today,” said Compassion & Choices Cultivation Manager Roland Halpern. “We applaud members of the House Judiciary Committee who listened to their constituents and agreed that people facing unbearable suffering at the end of life should have more options and more control over how they spend their final days and weeks. Where Senators tried to shut down debate yesterday, the House chose to trust Coloradans to have a serious conversation about the end of life.”

On Wednesday, SB16-025, the End of Life Options Act fell victim to partisan politics in the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee; on Thursday, members of the House Judiciary committee voted six to five in favor of the bill, allowing the legislation to move to the House floor.

The Colorado End of Life Options Act is closely modeled after the Death With Dignity Act in Oregon, which has worked well for 17 years, without a single documented case of abuse or coercion. California recently became the 5th state to authorize the option of medical aid in dying and the 2nd state after Vermont in 2013 to do it via the legislature. The other three states that authorize this end-of-life option are Oregon (via referendum in 1994), Washington (via referendum in 2008) and Montana (via state Supreme Court decision in 2009). More than half the states have considered similar legislation in the past year.

Coloradans from across the state came to the Capitol on Thursday to testify in support of The Colorado End of Life Options Act, which would allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication that they could take, if their suffering becomes unbearable, to painlessly and peacefully die in their sleep.

Patti James, a 79 year-old nurse from Littleton who also has terminal cancer, testified at the House hearing and later expressed her gratitude: “I am a nurse who has seen too many difficult, painful deaths. I am also a woman with stage 3 lung cancer, which means a cruel and terrifying dying process is in my future. I want to thank the committee for truly hearing what we had to say and moving this legislation to the next step. I may not ultimately be able to access this compassionate option, but I hope other dying Coloradans can one day.”

Many Coloradans went to difficult lengths to get to the Capitol and have their voices heard. Joellyn Duesberry is a 71 year-old from Greenwood Village. She explained, “I have forfeited my privacy in order to be robustly vulnerable before all of you gathered here [because I] want my dying to be of some service to humanity.”

Dr. Lauri Costello, a family doctor from Durango, made it clear to members on the committee why she is confident supporting the Colorado End of Life Options Act: “The term ‘physician assisted suicide’ is, frankly, deeply offensive to me as a physician and to many of my physician colleagues.  This term does not refer to any legal medical procedure, and insinuates that physicians help their patients commit suicide.  Suicide and euthanasia are both illegal in all 50 States and will remain so.  Neither is remotely related to medical aid in dying, which this bill addresses.”

Dan Diaz, who was in Colorado last week, had his testimony read aloud to the House committee and provided video testimony given by his late wife, Brittany Maynard. Maynard had terminal brain cancer and moved from California to Oregon in 2014 to access that state’s Death with Dignity Act. Diaz testified, “As a Catholic, I believe it is not for me to judge someone else’s decision regarding their own end of life.  I respect those who might make a different decision if they were in Brittany’s shoes, so I don’t understand why they do not extend the same respect to those of us, and the 68% of Coloradans, that agree with Brittany and support End-of-Life Options for terminally ill individuals.”