When two-thirds of Colorado voters approved Proposition 106, the Colorado End of Life Options Act, they might have assumed the new law would apply throughout the state. However, up to a third of Colorado hospitals are opting out of implementation.
This isn’t surprising given the surge in Catholic-owned and operated hospitals throughout the country and their vehement opposition to the initiative in Colorado throughout the campaign. Of the 16 largest campaign contributors opposing the initiative, most came from Catholic diocese in Colorado. The Archdiocese of Denver gave $1.5 million as the largest single contributor and the Archdiocese of Colorado Springs chipped in $500,000. At least $65,000 came from diocese in places like Pittsburgh and Kansas City. The large Catholic contributors were joined by Colorado Christian University and Focus on the Family, both contributing tens of thousands of dollars.
The growth in Catholic-managed hospitals, well known for resisting any form of suicide or euthanasia because of church doctrine, is even more pronounced in Colorado. According to a 2016 report by MergerWatch and Madison Healthcare Advisors, nearly 15 percent of all U.S. acute care hospitals are Catholic-owned. However, Colorado’s rate of Catholic-owned acute hospital beds are more than double the national average at 34 percent. The state ranks 7th in terms of most Catholic-managed hospital beds.
Across the country, there are 46 regions where a Catholic-owned hospital is the only option. Three are in Colorado. In Durango the SCL Health owned Mercy Regional Medical Center has the only acute hospital beds, in Cañon City the only option is St. Thomas More Hospital owned by Centura Health and Grand Junction’s only beds are in St. Mary’s Hospital and Medical Center.
On their web site, SCL states, “We believe we can provide compassionate care and comfort to our patients so they can live with dignity until the time of natural death, and we have therefore opted out of participation.” Centura Health’s web site explains, “Centura Health has a long tradition of believing in the sanctity of life, extending compassionate care and relieving suffering. These fundamental values are reflected in the depth and breadth of support and comfort services we offer, including palliative care, hospice care, spiritual care services and mental health services, so patients and their families may live with dignity until the patient’s time of death. Centura Health facilities and providers do not provide medical aid in dying medication or related services.” For Coloradans in jurisdictions dependent on SCL or Centaura, the law of the land does not apply.
Proponents of the new law aren’t giving up. This week, supporters of the legislation met with Colorado lawmakers to discuss the road to implementation. Kat West, National Director of Policy and Programs at Compassion and Choices, a Denver-based nonprofit organizing the effort said, “An ongoing dialogue and education is the best way to help all Coloradans navigate the new law.” Their meetings took place at the First Baptist Church near the State Capitol during their Colorado End-Of-Life Options Act Legislative Day. “Whether you are a terminally ill adult, doctor, pharmacist or legislator, it is important to understand how the law is working in Colorado,” West continued. “With 65 percent of voters supporting the measure, we want to be sure that everyone has access to current, accurate information. Hosting a day at the State Capitol is an important step to keep our supporters, and their representatives at the Statehouse, fully informed.” Those speaking on behalf of implementation of the new measure included physicians, patients, and family members who have nursed their loved ones during the final stages of terminal disease.
West and her colleagues have national voter sentiment on their side. LifeWay Research, a Christian church serving non-profit released a 2016 study showing two-thirds of U.S. residents support physician assisted suicide. Latino voters across the country are slightly more in favor of the law with 69 percent in support.
Colorado’s End of Life Options Act dictates that any mentally-sound adult requesting physician assistance in dying would have to prove their illness with a diagnosis of less than six months to live. Both a primary and secondary physician would have to confirm the six months determination. Patients would have to take any physician prescribed medication voluntarily. Doctors prescribing life-ending drugs would be immune from any lawsuits. Colorado was the fifth state to pass right to die legislation, following Oregon, California, Vermont, Washington and Montana.
For Lance Wright, the new law didn’t go far enough. His competing initiative would have modified the Colorado Constitution to allow euthanasia for those unable to self-administer prescribed drugs. When Parkinson’s disease takes over his body, he wants full control of what he calls his “death experience.” Eight years after symptoms first surfaced, he took action. No stranger to politics, the two-term former Parker Town Councilman might take another run at an initiative to create, “A carefully worked out procedure with a physician. When you hit those benchmarks, life-ending action is taken. So I am saying, please give me the peaceful death I want.”
Wright influenced co-author Mercedes Aponte to help write the competing proposal. Her theologian mother also taught her about “Dying in the comfort of your own home with your loved ones. With the whole concept of not being in a sterile environment and having a peaceful, loving death.” Aponte adds, “People should have an opportunity to decide whether they can suffer through something. Self-determined death is our last inalienable right.”