This year, Colorado voters will be asked to either support or reject Proposition 106, the Colorado “End-of-Life Options Act."
After “Aid in Dying” bills were introduced three times in the Colorado legislature without success, enough signatures were gathered to put Proposition 106 on the ballot. If approved by voters, it will add the proposed Act to our state code; it is not a constitutional amendment. The ACLU of Colorado supports Proposition 106.
The ACLU has historically been and remains a strong advocate for the right of individuals who are terminally ill (defined as having six months or less to live) to decide how to spend their final days, how to manage or avoid pain and suffering, and how to face death, including the right to seek physician assistance in ending one's own life. Five states now permit physician assistance in dying. Those states are Oregon, California, Washington, Vermont, and Montana. The ACLU of New Mexico is engaged in litigation on behalf of an individual who seeks to establish aid in dying as a constitutional right.
While the ACLU supports aid in dying, it also recognizes the need for protections from abuse of these laws. The ACLU also supports the decision to keep living despite a terminal illness and in particular wishes to uphold a culture of respect for those who are living with disabilities. Many disability groups oppose aid in dying laws, even with safeguards. The ACLU of Colorado has chosen to maintain its support for aid in dying laws, but encourages all Coloradans to carefully consider the concerns of the disability community. Under no circumstances should the lives of people with disabilities be devalued, and it should never be suggested that living with a disability means living with anything less than full meaning and dignity.
The ACLU advocates for safeguards in aid in dying policy, including patient access to palliative care and information about pain medication and other alternatives. There also must be demonstrated assurance that the decision to end one's life is neither pressured nor coerced. In addition, the law should provide a mechanism to evaluate that it is working as it is supposed to work.
Proposition 106 appears to sufficiently address these safeguards. There is a requirement for a second opinion on the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Attending Physicians are required to provide information on alternatives and the availability of palliative care, and every patient must be provided the right and opportunity to rescind an aid in dying request. To ensure that requests for medication are not coerced, the initiative requires that a patient make two requests for the medication, one of which must be in writing and witnessed by two people. These witnesses must attest to the person's mental capacity and that the person is acting voluntarily. The initiative imposes documentation and reporting requirements on the Attending Physician, overseen by the Department of Public Health and Environment. In implementing Proposition 106, strict adherence to the reporting requirements is critical to ensure the effectiveness of these safeguards.
The ACLU of Colorado affirms the rights of people facing difficult end-of-life decisions, while urging awareness and consideration of the concerns and perspectives of people living with disabilities.
See also, As a Civil Libertarian, I Struggle with Colorado’s Aid in Dying Ballot Initiative by ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Rebecca T. Wallace