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APR's state ballot series: medical aid in dying

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 Voting “yes” on Proposition 106, known as the “End of Life Options Act” would legalize the use of life-ending medicine in some cases. A “no” vote would keep it illegal to prescribe or take the drugs.

 

For a patient to be prescribed life-ending medication, they need two diagnoses from separate physicians declaring that he or she has less than six months to live. The patient needs to ask three times, verbally, with witnesses, and in writing. This is not the same as “pulling the plug.” If someone is too incapacitated, either mentally or physically, to self-administer the drugs, then the person is not eligible for the medication. Any doctor can refuse to prescribe the pills, even to a patient who legally qualifies.

Carbondale resident Ron Kokish is a proponent of the measure. He is nearly 76 years old and said if it were him, he’d want the option on the table.

“I had a bout of prostate cancer a few years ago and I felt a lot closer to death, and I certainly wanted to know that I would have the option,” he said.

He added that the act gets the government out of the sick bed. He also points out that those who are against assisted dying can just choose not to use the option.

“I don’t know which way to go on it, under what circumstance, I just don’t think the government ought to be making that decision for us,” Kokish said.

But others say approving the act is what results in government meddling — for the healthcare profession. Markey Butler is executive director of Hospice of the Valley. As the chair of the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of the Rockies, she helped consult on the wording of the bill. She is staying neutral, but said it very much affects her industry and her individual staff. They may face internal moral battles.

“Our goal is to do no harm,” Butler said of the oath healthcare professionals take.“That's part of the public health act in the state of Colorado. And it's part of the Nursing Practice Act. Do not harm, do no harm, do no harm.”

While a Rocky Mountain PBS poll shows the measure passing by 70 percent, it’s one of the most personal decisions voters will face this fall.

“Americans have difficulty accepting the fact that every one of us is terminal,” said Butler. “There’s incredible fear of the dying process, so out of that comes a very emotional issue.”

Butler said the proposition’s built-in safeguards are too vague. She added that no one can really say if a patient only has six months left to live, and leaving the decision to general practice physicians discounts the expertise of those who specialize in palliative care. At Hospice of the Valley, clients are helped with comfort, and bucket list-type items such as writing their memories, hiking Aspen Mountain, or flying to California to put their toes in the ocean.

Editor’s note: This fall, Aspen Public Radio is exploring how statewide measures play out in the Roaring Fork Valley. Tune in each week to hear an analysis of each initiative. For a complete look at election coverage, click here.

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