Viewpoint: Another View on Prop 106, the Colorado “End-of-Life” Proposal

By Eric Sondermann

This article was originally published in the Denver Business Journal on October 28, 2016.

As a moderator of the “Colorado Decides” debate series on Colorado Public Television-12, I try to take an objective, down-the-middle view, approaching the debate on each and every ballot issue in a fair and balanced manner.

Eric Sondermann is a respected and longtime political consultant and analyst based out of Denver.
Eric Sondermann is a respected and longtime political consultant and analyst based out of Denver.

That was certainly the spirit in which I entered the television studio a month ago to tape the debate on Proposition 106, the Colorado end-of-life options initiative. But 30 minutes later, with the taping complete, I could no longer be neutral. Our purpose is to provide information to the viewing audience. In this instance, I, too, was one of those to walk away informed and moved.

On that set, it struck me that the opposition arguments were rooted in hypotheticals and fanciful what-ifs while the proponent’s case was based in the here-and-now and the reality of individuals making excruciating end-of-life decisions.

With due respect to former Congressman Bob Beauprez, his column a week ago in these pages opposing Proposition 106 exhibited that same bent toward speculative and imaginary scenarios.

His argument started by trying to cast this as a “life or death” decision. Sadly, that is wrong. In plain terms, Proposition 106 is only about death and giving some choice, some control and an end of suffering to those deep in its grips.

This deprives no one of life with all its richness, vibrancy and potential. But for those whose candle is near its final flicker, it provides a way out of pain-without-hope and final suffering which not even the best of palliative care and modern pharmacology can always alleviate.

This is not a new idea or untested model. To the contrary, Proposition 106 tightly follows the Oregon law passed nearly two decades ago. In that extended period, a total of 1,545 prescriptions have been written for terminally-ill, end-stage Oregonians. Of those, 991 used the medication. 554 individuals chose to get the prescription but then not to take it, again underscoring the point that this is simply about options.

Perhaps most importantly, there has been no indication of any of the parade of horribles that seem to consume opponents of this measure. As indicated by the numbers above, the Oregon option has been used sparingly, conscientiously and without major uproar or problem. In more recent years, Washington, Vermont and California have adopted similar laws. Montana has such a process in place by court ruling.

The precautions and safeguards in the Colorado proposal, as in these other states, are rigid and multiple. These requirements include:

* That two doctors must confirm that the individual has a terminal illness likely to cause death within six months.

* That the individual must be mentally capable of making an informed decision.

* That he or she must make two verbal requests with at least a 15-day waiting period in between; then followed by a third written request in front of two witnesses.

* Perhaps most importantly, that the medication must be self-administered.

* That no healthcare provider or any other person is required to participate.

This process is voluntary in every sense of the word. In fact, any kind of coercion or undue pressure would constitute a felony under this proposal.

Proposition 106 is proven and tightly-crafted. Further, it is presented as a statutory change and not a constitutional amendment. But beyond its particulars, it is important as a statement of principle and ethics.

My wife and I know something of terminal illness. Between the two of us, we have lost three parents to cancer with only one of them even seeing a 60th birthday. One parent, decades ago, without our knowing, obtained an off-the-books lethal prescription from an oncologist, and then when the time came, took it to alleviate final suffering. Proposition 106 does not invent such means. It simply brings it out of the shadows to be codified and regulated.

Those of us in our prime and reasonably healthy have no knowledge of the circumstances of our demise. But one thing we all have in common is the surety that a death awaits. Having been fortunate to live in a time of unprecedented choices, why should we not have the option of determining the terms of our last breath if confronted with the final, hopeless, end-stage suffering of a terminal disease?

So many other issues have consumed the oxygen of this endless campaign. In voting for Proposition 106, we can do something humane, kind, compassionate and overdue. Please join me in approving a worthy measure.