"Please, I Want to Die:" Charles Selsberg to Inspire Death With Dignity Bill

Colorado doesn't have a death-with-dignity law intended to allow the terminally ill to end their lives. However, a bill on that topic will reportedly be pushed during the upcoming legislative session, inspired by the plight of Charles Selsberg, who lobbied for such a change in "Please, I Want to Die," an op-ed published shortly before he passed away following a long and agonizing battle with ALS.

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"Please, I Want to Die" was published by the Denver Post on February 27. The essay is framed as a letter to Colorado representatives and senators and begins like so:
There is no bill on this issue in this legislative session, but I'm hoping my statements will encourage you to consider one, if not this year, then soon. I have to give my testimony to you now, because by next week I hope to be dead.

You see, I made a terrible mistake. I chose to live when I should have chosen to die, at my own hands, many months ago. Because now I can't swallow the foods that made my mouth water or the sweets that added a few pounds to my middle. I can't talk to my friends and family who surround me; my voice is barely audible, and every whispered word takes monumental effort. I can't walk; my muscles have atrophied. I can't breathe; I'm on a machine that inhales and exhales for me.

Selsberg did indeed die a short time after the letter was published, on March 6, following a long business career based in Wisconsin. A March 30 remembrance in the Kenosha News notes that he originally worked as a railroad freight broker before moving into the real estate field. After retiring, he moved to Denver, where his daughters live, spending about seven years in Colorado.

The last of those was painful, particularly for someone as active as Selsberg, who was an active handball player as well as a great conversationalist. After a prolonged period during which symptoms accumulated, he was diagnosed with ALS, popularly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, in October 2013. The Kenosha News quotes loved ones as confirming that he grew depressed as his condition worsened. With the end nearing, his daughter, Julie, helped him write the letter that appeared in the Post.

Among those moved by Selsberg's letter, according to Compassion & Choices, were two state reps, Lois Court and Joann Ginal. Court, whose mother "suffered a long and painful death," is said to have told Selsberg before he died that she would sponsor death-with-dignity legislation. The item adds: "To ensure the bill gets traction, C&C has retained communications and lobbying experts in Denver, and is hitting major events like the Salute to Seniors at the Colorado Convention Center -- where 183 new volunteers signed up to help!"

On Saturday, Ginal hosted a related get-together, which she describes on her Facebook page as a " Community Forum at Harmony Library." The Fort Collins Coloradoan reports that Ginal told the approximately 150 attendees the bill she's putting together with Court is in the mid-drafting stage. Her plan is to introduce the legislation during the forthcoming session of the general assembly.

As for the specifics, here's an excerpt from the Coloradoan piece:

Ginal said she aims for the bill to have no cost to the taxpayer. It would also only apply to Colorado residents -- so no one could fly in and receive a prescription for life-ending medication -- and it would have a procedure in place to properly dispose of unused medications. Mentally competent patients would be the only ones allowed to seek and use the prescriptions. In Oregon, getting a prescription requires two oral requests, made at least 15 days apart, and a final written request witnessed by two people, one of whom cannot be related by blood or marriage or stand to gain financially from the person's death.
Ginal writes on Facebook that "we had an excellent panel and many questions and comments."

We suspect Selsberg would have been pleased.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts