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Two years later, looking at impact of End-of-Life Options Act in Colorado

Obstacles, concerns remain years later
Posted: 10:02 PM, Oct 24, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-25 19:01:54Z

DENVER, Colorado — Almost two years after Colorado voters approved an aid-in-dying law, an increasing number of terminally-ill patients are choosing to end their own lives.

But KMGH televisions tation in Denver found the process doesn't always go smoothly. From finding doctors to pharmacies to paying for the medication, there are obstacles and concerns. Presented below, several viewpoints on Proposition 106, two years after it became the law of the land in Colorado. 

Harry Calvino

When the days are lonely and Harry Calvino misses his wife Antje, he takes comfort knowing she died the way she lived.

"She fought to the end," said Calvino, "she wanted to die with dignity, peace and grace, and I thought that was put pretty well by her."

Five years ago, at 61-years-old, Antje Calvino was diagnosed with stage 4 appendix cancer and fought with a vengeance.

"She was in pain all the time. She was on a Dilaudid drip," said Calvino, who said their at-home hospice care was excellent, but when Antje could no longer get out of bed, she decided it was time.

On August 19, with her family by her side, she took the medicine, and two hours later, she was gone.

"Antje had that right to say, 'Listen, I'm going to hang on as long as I can, and then it's over," said Calvino.

Background

A growing number of families are using Colorado's 2016 Aid-In-Dying law, which allows some terminally-ill patients to give themselves medication to end their lives.

Father Luis Granados

You can't talk about "right-to-die" without talking about faith, and at the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, Father Luis Granados reminds us that in his Book, this is suicide.

"We are not masochists. We don't like to suffer just for the sake of suffering," the priest said. "It's not for us to choose the time of our birth, and it's not for us to choose the time of our death. That's a gift of God."

Suffering, in the Catholic Church, can have meaning. Granados pointed to the last decade of Pope John Paul II.

"When he was not able to speak, not able to walk. This is the powerful witness of our suffering. Because through suffering, we learn so many things and we teach others how to live," said Granados, who is concerned about the impact on the elderly. "With this law, the door is open for someone to say, 'I am being selfish. I should kill myself so my children stop suffering.' So it’s kind of diabolical."

He and many others are alarmed at the increasing number of people taking this option. In 2017, 69 people in Colorado received prescriptions for aid-in-dying medications. In 2018, the numbers aren't final, but the state predicts an up to 40 percent increase. The vast majority of patients in 2017 have cancer.

That is a concern for Dr. Robert Jotte, a medical oncologist with Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers.

"My number one priority every day is to make sure my patients aren't suffering," said Jotte, who added he will not prescribe "suicide pills." 

"In my opinion, that's not death with dignity, that's death. That suicide." 

In his world, oncologists are making advances all the time with molecular diagnostics, targeted therapy that could add quality years to life, and in the end they could treat pain.

"Once you start peeling back those layers and find out what their trust fears are you actually can address the problem," said Jotte.

If the idea is to go in peace,  reports of people taking hours or even days to die after ingesting the drugs are also causing concerns .

"The longest I've heard is eight hours," said Sam DeWitt with Compassion & Choices, who said part of the problem is the expensive name-brand drug. Secobarbital costs up to $4,000. A drug cocktail costs a few hundred dollars, and it's also effective, but can take longer. "Obviously, having a medical professional there in those moments if of utmost importance."

The more pressing issue, DeWitt said, is that many doctors won't prescribe the drugs, and many pharmacies still won't fill the prescriptions.

Patients are coming to Fort Collins Dr. Cory Carroll, who has openly endorsed the Right-To-Die laws.

"My fear is patients that would really want this and are desperate for it in certain pockets of the state, there's really no easy avenue for them to have help," said Carroll. 

He has prescribed to seven patients who wanted to die on their terms. 

"To me this is about patient autonomy. It's not about what I believe or what somebody else believes, it's 'what does the patient believe, what does the patient want.'"

Since Calvino ended her long fight, her husband has only become more convinced that when the time comes, he will also call Dr. Carroll and make the same choice.

"There's no question you're not going to live, you're going to die," said Calvino. "So making that choice of how you're going to do it, that's the key."

Fore more information on Colorado's Aid-In-Dying law, click here ; for the Compassion & Choices Find Care Tool, click here .