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Cortez, state sort through details of aid-in-dying law

State holds rule-making hearing; Southwest Memorial considers options

Though Southwest Health System officials announced earlier this month the hospital will opt out of Colorado’s aid-in-dying law, CEO Kent Rogers said Friday they will continue to amend their policy.

“We wanted to make sure we can do this in a way where we can comply with the law,” he said.

Proposition 106 passed with 64.5 percent of the statewide vote in the Nov. 8 election, and it was signed into law Dec. 16. The act allows a terminally ill person with a prognosis of six months or less to live to request medical aid-in-dying medication and voluntarily end his or her life by self-administering those medications. It also allows physicians to prescribe such medication to terminally ill patients under certain conditions.

The Colorado Board of Health approved new regulations at an emergency rule-making hearing Jan. 18. A hearing for permanent adoption of the rules will be held April 19.

Proposition 106 requires the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to set rules facilitating the collection of medical record information from physicians in aid-in-dying cases, according to CDPHE documents.

Southwest Memorial Hospital and Mercy Regional Medical Center have both opted out of the law.

Southwest Memorial’s board of directors unanimously voted to opt out of the law, according to a Jan. 5 news release. Rogers recommended opting out after discussions with the hospital’s medical staff, according to the release.

He said hospital leaders wanted to make sure they had appropriate family services in place, and to understand the company’s role in the new law. Making those preparations would allow people in the company to respond appropriately to an aid-in-dying situation if such a case were to arise, he said.

When a person makes the decision to end his or her life, it should be made with his or her physician, not handed down from an organizational policy, Rogers said.

“I fully expect us to work on a policy that would support our physicians if they choose to participate,” he said.

Most assisted suicides take place in a person’s private home, rather than an acute care facility such as Southwest Memorial Hospital, Rogers said.

Some area physicians who don’t work for Southwest Health may decide to provide the service to their patients, he said.

Rogers, who has worked in the health care industry for 25 years, said society has come a long way in accepting death as a part of life. There are other models of end-of-life care the hospital employs, such as hospice and palliative care, he said. Those types of care help patients who have a serious illness or are near death be more comfortable, he said.

People who might qualify for aid-in-dying care under the law would most likely be appropriate referrals for hospice services, he said.

In Montezuma County, Prop. 106 passed with 59.25 percent of the vote, 7,334 to 5,045. Urging a person with a terminal illness to request aid-in-dying medication or tampering with a person’s request for the medication now carry criminal penalties under the law.

In Durango, Mercy Regional Medical Center also decided to opt out of Proposition 106, according to David Bruzzese, director of public relations.

Mercy is part of Centura Health, which has a “long tradition of believing in the sanctity of life,” Bruzzese said in an email.

“These fundamental values are reflected in the depth and breadth of support and comfort services we offer, including palliative care, hospice care, spiritual care services and mental health services, so patients and their families may live with dignity until the patient’s time of death,” Bruzzese said.

The New Mexico Supreme Court in June ruled that assisted suicide was not constitutional in that state, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

The rules the board of health approved last week require doctors to report a patient’s diagnosis, prognosis and mental capacity to CDPHE within 30 days of issuing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication. They also require doctors to report the dates of written and oral requests for medication.

The law states that CDPHE must annually review a sample of the records and release a public report with the findings.

Rogers said the passing of the law was sudden. Hospital officials expected it to be signed into law in January, but Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill in December. Board of health members asked lots of questions at the Jan. 18 hearing, and they were still working through the details of the new policy.

“This is uncharted territory for Colorado,” Board of Health member Jill Hunsaker-Ryan said in the meeting.


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