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Assisted suicide initiative makes Colorado ballot

August 15, 2016 Updated: August 15, 2016 at 9:08 pm
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An initiative allowing doctors to give lethal drugs to terminally ill patients has made the November ballot, Colorado's Secretary of State announced Monday.

The "Medical Aid in Dying" proposal asks voters whether patients diagnosed to have six months or fewer to live can take a lethal dose of drugs prescribed by a doctor.

The announcement sets the stage for voters to decide a proposal that state lawmakers have twice rejected in recent years. And it launches Colorado to the fore of a national debate on so-called "right-to-die" laws.

Only California, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont currently allow physicians to aid in a patient's death.

The proposal will appear as Initiative 145, making it the third measure to be petitioned onto the November ballot.

Proponents hailed the announcement as a significant step forward - even though they already have spent millions reserving television ad time.

Yes on Colorado End-of-Life Options spent $2.9 million to reserve TV ad time, campaign finance records show. It also paid a national company another $344,000 to help gather signatures.

"There are a lot of people who are counting on this," said Holly Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the campaign. "There is an urgency factor in this, too."

The measure requires two physicians to confirm a patient's terminal prognosis, while ensuring that each patient's decision was voluntary. Patients also must be told about other care and treatment options.

Each patient must be a Colorado resident and self-administer the lethal drug. If a physician suspects the patient isn't mentally capable of making such a decision, then the patient must undergo a psychological evaluation.

Anyone acting in good faith - either in prescribing the drugs, or in being present when the patient takes them - would be immune from prosecution.

Opponents said the proposal was too vague and left open the possibility of abuse.

"It's a sad day for Colorado," said Carrie Ann Lucas of Windsor. She suffers from a progressive neuromuscular disease and uses a ventilator to breathe.

She said the proposal does not require doctors to oversee patients as they take the lethal drugs - a concern, if the dose is taken incorrectly. And the measure does not make psychological evaluations mandatory for everyone seeking the lethal drugs, she said.

"It's incredibly broad, and there's inadequate safeguards to protect Coloradans from abuse and mistakes and coercion," Lucas said.

State lawmakers have twice rejected similar proposals - once in 2015 and again earlier this year.

Each time a bill was introduced, relatives of terminally ill patients pleaded with state lawmakers to help end the suffering.

The first such proposal came shortly after Charles Selsberg of Denver penned a letter in the Denver Post detailing the brutal pain he faced from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. He died of the disease at 77.

His daughter, Julie Selsberg, helped organize the ballot petition - saying it would have empowered her dad and given him comfort his last few months alive.

"This is just one more option that, if you want it, it could be allowed," Julie Selsberg said. "And you don't have to take it if you don't want to.

"It gives an unbelievable amount of peace of mind to people who suffer, to know it doesn't have to be that way," she added.

Many medical doctors and religious organizations, however, opposed each proposed bill and questioned the lack of safeguards. Lucas said the ballot measure suffered from those same problems.

"None of those concerns are addressed, even in this proposal," Lucas said.

Proponents submitted 155,676 signatures to the Secretary of State, and they needed 98,492 to place it on the ballot. A random sampling of 5 percent of those signatures found that enough of them were valid to put the measure before voters, the state agency announced Monday.

Also on the November ballot is Amendment 69, which asks voters to approve a universal health care system called ColoradoCare that would be paid for with a new $25 billion payroll tax on employers and employees.

Voters also will decide whether to approve Amendment 70, which would raise the state's minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.

Several other proposed measures remain under review by the Secretary of State's office.

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter: @jakobrodgers

Facebook: Jakob Rodgers

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