For the second time in two years, the Colorado legislature has killed a bill that would have made it the 5th state to legalize assisted suicides, after Oregon, Washington, Vermont and California.
Lawmakers in the Colorado state House today decided to lay over the bill, HB 1054, until June — effectively killing the legislation for the session.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill earlier this month. Had the measure been voted out of the Democrat-dominated House pro-life advocates hoped the Republican-led state Senate would be able to defeat the measure, as it did when a panel defeated the legislation in early February.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill on a 6-5 party-line vote after hearing 10 hours of testimony. The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Michael Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Reps. Lois Court of Denver and Joann Ginal of Fort Collins.
Leading physicians said the bill would have the medical profession turning its back on the most vulnerable patients.
“What this bill asks me as a physician is to look at my patients with sympathy rather than empathy,” said Dr. Robert Jotte, an oncologist at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers. “We can’t as a medical profession give up on these patients.”
Another speaker, an attorney opposed the bill as well:
Probate attorney Skip Morgan opposed the bill, drawing from his experience in estate law.
“I am gravely concerned about this proposed act,” Morgan told the committee. “My years of experience tell me that the safeguards … are unenforceable.
“The requirement for two witness to witness the actual execution by the patient makes no intonation that those two have any idea of this patient,” Morgan. In some estate cases, he said, attorneys used random members of their staff to act as witnesses.
One of the witnesses to a patient’s assisted suicide would be allowed to be an heir under the House bill, Morgan said, which could involve “somebody with a claim, someone who may benefit from their death.”
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“There is no requirement to witness the administrations of medication. There’s no requirement that this actually be documented.”
Morgan said that insurance companies could abuse the bill, as “the least expensive treatment is to put that patient to death.”
Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Republican, asked if the bill could promote elder abuse.
“Yes, I have seen that … in a number of the proceedings,” Morgan said. “I have seen a very subtle pressure put on these people. They see themselves as a burden. ‘Mom, I love you to death, but how much longer do you want to go on?’”
Margaret Dore, an attorney in Washington state, opposed the bill, which is similar to Washington’s Death With Dignity Act.
“The law is deceptively written,” Dore said. “The term ‘aid in dying’ makes you trust this is for the dying. There’s no requirement that people be dying. The bill is sold as choice and control. It’s stacked against the person.”
Dore said the medication typically used is water-soluble, and could be “given to a patient without their consent.”
She said she’d had a client whose father was given the medication, and decided not to take it when he brought it home, but took it later when he was intoxicated.
“They’re sitting ducks,” Dore said.
Dore is concerned that, under the amended bill, the death certificate from an assisted suicide is required to be falsified to reflect a natural death by a terminal illness.
This is due to the following provisions:
1. 25-48-114(2) states:
- A qualified individual’s act of self-administering aid-in-dying medication pursuant to this article does not affect a life, health, or accident insurance or annuity policy, other than that the death is a natural death resulting from the qualified individual’s terminal illness.
2. 25-48-109 states:
- (1) Unless otherwise prohibited by law, the attending physician shall sign the death certificate of a qualified individual who obtains and self-administers aid-in-dying medication.
- (2) When an attending physician certifies that a death occurred in accordance with this article, the death is not reportable and does not constitute grounds for post-mortem inquiry under section 30-10-606 (1), C.R.S. [ such as a death that “is or may be unnatural as a result of external influences” and “due to the influence of or the result of intoxication by alcohol, drugs or poison“]
3. 25-48-120 states:
- Actions taken in accordance with this article do not, for any purpose, [such as the death certificate] constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, homicide, or elder abuse under the “Colorado Criminal Code”, title 18, C.R.S.