‘Death with dignity’ legislation introduced in Colorado


Julie Selsberg, left, pictured with her father, Charles Selsberg, who urged state lawmakers to allow terminally ill patients to ‘die with dignity’ a month before he died from ALS.

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DENVER -- A year ago, Julie Selsberg sat on her father's death bed at the end of a slow, agonizing death and told him she loved him, that she was sorry he suffered so much and that she would work on his behalf to enable the terminally ill to die with dignity.

On Tuesday, Selsberg fought back tears from behind a podium in the west foyer of the State Capitol as she made good on that promise, heralding the introduction of legislation sparked by her father's call for the right to end his own life.

"I know that some people would carry on, choosing to be alive through artificial support, happy just to be in the silent presence of others, propped up in a wheelchair or visited bedside. But that's not me," Charles Selsberg wrote just a few weeks before his death from complications from ALS.

"This is not living. I am not in pain, but I am suffering. Living with this disease is a cruelty we wouldn't tolerate for a pet."

Selsberg, who was 77, chose to hasten his own death by refusing nourishment, but it took his body nearly two weeks to shut down.

House Bill 1135, which may get its first hearing next week, would allow terminally ill Coloradans access to drugs if a doctor determines them to be mentally competent to make the decision and only after two doctors agree that the patient is likely within six months of death.

"This is not suicide," said Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, one of the bill's sponsors. "Their illness is going to kill them. They want to choose the what, the when the where and the with whom. The with whom is really the most important thing."

The Hospice and Palliative Care Association of the Rockies announced later Tuesday afternoon that it opposed the legislation as introduced and takes objection to its title, “Death with Dignity."

According to a public statement, the organization "believes a palliative physician with expertise in caring for those with terminal illnesses must provide the second medical opinion as required by the bill.

"Should the association successfully lobby to have the bill amended, it would shift its position to one of 'studied neutrality' because the association recognizes that its members hold a plurality of views and that patients can, will continue to, and must have choices concerning their end-of-life care."

Five states have 'Death with Dignity' laws on the books and legislation modeled on Oregon's law, the first of its kind, is being pushed in a number of states.

In Colorado, where the legislature is divided between Democrats and Republicans, the bill faces an uncertain fate.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has yet to see the bill or take a position on it.

"There is no controversy here, it's as clear as glass," said Jane Jones, a Wheat Ridge woman who's son, Alexander, died at 29, five years after a brain tumor was diagnosed, after he refused nutrition in hospice care.

"People who want to die and who are suffering and who say I want to die should be allowed to die. It's that simple."

Thus far, the organizations opposing the legislation are doing so from a religious viewpoint.

“Physician-assisted suicide is a bad solution to a problem we already solve every day here in Colorado,” said Jennifer Ballentine, an end of life expert with Hospice Analytics quoted in a press release Tuesday sent by Focus on the Family under the group name "Coloradans Against Physician-Assisted Suicide.

“Proponents offer a stark – and false – choice between terrible suffering or committing suicide with prescription drugs. Hospice and palliative care offer a proven and widely available alternative. In 2013, 18,500 Coloradans received hospice care from 61 agencies across the state."



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