The people of Colorado have voted Proposition 106, the “End-of-life options act,” where two consenting physicians are allowed to deem an adult as terminal and allow them to take secobarbital, a sleeping aid that becomes lethal in high doses.

The proposal will be legal within a month, adding Colorado to the list of states that have legalized medically-assisted suicide alongside California, Washington, Vermont, and Oregon. Currently, the Washington D.C. city council is also looking into implementing the same proposal.

Physician, medication, drugs
Image credit: USC University of Southern California.

Colorado allows ‘compassionate death’

Proposal 106 rules that people must be diagnosed with a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less. The physician must determine that the patient is mentally capable, and the patient must voluntarily express the wish to receive a prescription for an assisted death medication. The patient must make the request twice, with a separation of at least fifteen days, alongside a written request emitted to their physician.

There must also be at least two witnesses for the writing of the request. At least one of the witnesses cannot be a relative by blood, marriage, civil union or adoption.

On the other hand, the patient is always able to change his mind about receiving medically-assisted suicide medication. If they do not receive the recommended dosage for the task, it must be self-administered.

The patient must be warned about all the terms mentioned above and about the possibility of rescinding the procedure. They are also advised to keep another person present when the medication is administered and not to take the medication in a public place.

The death certificate will list the cause of death as the underlying terminal illness and not assisted suicide.

Proposal 106 passed with a 65 percent support. It was drafted closely following Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” law, passed in 1994 with a 51.31 percent majority. The “Death with Dignity” law was challenged by the government but passed thanks to the Supreme Court.

From 1999 to 2015, over 1,500 people in Oregon have had written prescriptions for assisted suicide, while 991 did carry on with the procedure. The patients were predominantly over 70 years old, most of which suffered from a form of malignant cancer. 51.4 percent of the patients who did take the lethal dosage were males and most were married at the time of suicide. It appears that the primary cause that influenced the decision was the patient’s loss of autonomy.

To try and repeal the “Death with Dignity” law, Measure 51 was presented, which tried to force upon the patient a mandatory counseling session and reporting requirements before committing suicide.

Medically-assisted suicide differs from euthanasia. In the latter, the physician is who directly helps the patient complete its suicide. Assisted suicide was made a national debating topic after Dr. Jack Kevorkian assisted over 40 people commit suicide. His first patient was Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Kevorkian was charged with murder, but these were dropped, due to lack of any legal precedent about assisted suicide in Michigan.

Source: Colorado Secretary of State