45-55 Medical Aid in Dying Requests in End of Life Options Act's First Year

Kathy and Herb Myers during the early days of their long and happy marriage.
Kathy and Herb Myers during the early days of their long and happy marriage.
On December 16, 2016, the End of Life Options Act, passed by Colorado voters during the previous month's election, took effect. Two days shy of a year later, Compassion & Choices, the group that led the campaign for the measure, originally known as Proposition 106, estimates that between 45 and 55 terminally ill adults requested prescriptions for medical aid in dying.

This estimate is based on inquiries to C&C's Doc2Doc service, accessible by phone at 800-247-7421 or email at [email protected]. In addition, nearly 300 individuals in Colorado accessed C&C's Find Care tool, which offers information about medical facilities, systems and hospices that support the act.

Accessibility to end-of-life options remained a question even after the passage of Proposition 106, as we reported in the January post "Are Dozens of Hospitals Violating Letter or Spirit of the Medical Aid in Dying Law?"

Indeed, Aurora's Kathy Myers, who's believed to be the first person in the state to request medical aid in dying, went public that same month about her struggle to find a doctor who would prescribe the medication to end her life. She died in March after a long battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

"When we actually got the medication, it was like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders," Kathy's husband, Herb Myers, said in a statement. "She was down to 76 pounds, and she put on four pounds, which was a big deal. She felt so much more at ease with life in general."

Herb added: "The fact is, it [her death] was very gentle."

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Kathy and Herb Myers in January, when they went public with their difficulty in finding a doctor to prescribe medication to end her life.
The number of medication requests is roughly in line with predictions that advocate Julie Selsberg shared with us for "Why You Should Vote Yes for Proposition 106, Regarding End-of-Life Options," a post published in October 2016, just before the election. Selsberg became involved in the campaign following the death of her father, Charles Selsberg, from ALS; Charles wrote a public letter about his situation that inspired death-with-dignity legislation that failed to win approval from Colorado's General Assembly.

Selsberg refuted worst-case scenarios of the sort shared by opponents of the proposal, which we detailed in a companion item, "Why You Should Vote No on Proposition 106, Regarding End-of-Life Options," including the idea that the number of people requesting help ending their lives would be overwhelming.

"In 2016, Oregon put out their statistics for the previous year," she told us in regard to a state whose end-of-life statute served as something of a model for Colorado's. "And last year [2015], 218 people requested the prescription, and 132 actually took it. Of those 132, seven of them had their prescription from the year before — so you can't just keep it contained within one calendar year. But we're talking about a state that has four million people and 35,000 deaths per year. The percentage of people dying from using medical aid in dying is .3 percent. It's tiny."

At present, Compassion & Choices says 81 health-care facilities in thirty Colorado communities, as well as sixteen hospices in fifteen towns, "have adopted official policies supportive of patient end-of-life decision-making." That includes large systems such as Kaiser, HealthOne and the University of Colorado.

The exact number of requests for medical-aid-in-dying requests, as well as the total of those who used the prescription, will be available in the spring of 2018, when the State of Colorado releases a report mandated by the language in the End of Life Options Act.