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Group collects signatures to put right-to-die proposal on ballot

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DENVER -- Twice before they hoped lawmakers could make the change so desperately wanted by many with painful terminal illnesses. Both times -- this year and last year -- the Colorado Legislature let them down.

Now, they're taking the issue of "death with dignity" into their own hands. In November, it's likely there will be a ballot measure on whether to allow medical aid in dying.

Right-to-die advocacy group Compassion & Choices is collecting signatures to put the issue on the ballot. But critics vow they’ll fight it.

For 77 years, Charles Selsberg was a loving dad and grandfather. Then, an incurable disease, ALS, struck.

"What he wanted was to say goodbye and take aid-in-dying medication and go to sleep and die peacefully in his sleep. And he did not get that," his daughter Julie Selsberg said.

Instead, his daughter said he suffered.

"It was 13 days of starving. He was not at home. And his actual last moments of life were not peaceful," she said.

So now she has taken up his cause, with Compassion & Choices, to give the terminally ill the option to receive a prescription for a lethal dose of medication.

The measure requires a person have six months or less to live, two doctors must agree on that diagnosis, he or she must be at least 18 and mentally competent.

"We're opposed to the ballot initiative," said Carrie Ann Lucas with opposition group Not Dead Yet.

She worries the disabled could be pushed into making this choice.

"Rather than provide attended care in our home, the cheapest care becomes a lethal prescription," she said.

Lucas also worries greedy family members could coerce a loved one to “seek assisted suicide.”

Another issue, she said, is the measure is too broadly written.

"The problem is it’s not really for only people who are terminally ill. I'm a person myself who has a progressive neuromuscular disease. I’m not nearing death. But I would qualify," she said.

Without her ventilator, Lucas said she wouldn’t last six hours.

"This is for someone who is terminally ill and already dying. It is not the same as someone who is getting life-sustaining medication or apparatus to keep them alive," Julie Selsberg said.

It’s too late for her dad. But not for others whose families will receive a devastating diagnosis.

“It would have brought peace of mind that he would not suffer in his death. And his fear came true. He suffered and it didn't have to be that way," Julie Selsberg said.

The group has until Aug. 8 to turn in their petitions. It is confident it will reach the goal. It said polling showed 68 percent are in favor of the proposal.

If voters say yes, Colorado will follow in the footsteps of a handful of states, including Oregon, Washington and California.