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‘When can we respect dignity, wishes of aged, ill?’

Durango author Martha McClellan.

Dr. Thomas J. Perille’s guest column on Feb. 23 in The Durango Herald, previously published in The Colorado Sun, is wrong on so many counts.

He talks about Senate Bill 068, currently in the Colorado Senate, which gives elders suffering from intolerable pain and have a six-month fatal diagnosis easier access to medically assisted death. The bill would give patients a shorter waiting period from 15 days to 48 hours to access the medication, allow nurse practitioners to prescribe it and eliminate the state residency requirement.

First of all, Perille calls this whole process Physician-Assisted Suicide, immediately implying that it is a suicide that people are wanting. The Medical Aid in Dying bill, the proper title, passed in 2016 and is not suicide. It gives people who have no other options than a painful and debilitating death, the choice to end their lives in peace, with family surrounding them, and with some dignity.

He continues to say that this bill could actually increase suffering and cause serious unintended consequences for individuals and communities, and that fear and pain is a minor reason patients choose MAID. They choose this method because they are depressed, don’t want to be a burden on families, and fear loss of dignity and autonomy.

Yes, intolerable pain and discomfort has many impacts. Wouldn’t anyone be sad and feel all these things as a result of having six months to live? Remember, there must be a disease causing death within six months, and two different doctors certifying this condition. People don’t just choose this method because they are depressed – this is against the law. MAID participants must be “mentally capable.”

If I am correct, Perille has used the “Why People Think They Might Hasten Their Death When Faced With Irremediable Health Conditions Compared to Why They Actually Do So” study by Charles and Robert Blake, published in the Journal of Death and Dying in 2021. This study surveys the differences of relatively healthy proponents of end-of-life choices and people with irremediable health conditions having already made the decision to hasten their deaths on what each group considers important in influencing a desire to hasten death.

As in previous studies, both the supporter group and the decided group trended toward social-emotional factors as more influential in why they would consider hastening their death than physical limitations in task activities of daily living or being in pain (Ganzini et al., 2008b; Rodriguez-Prat et al., 2017).

The more important issues in the decided group were: having no further acceptable treatments to improve their condition or quality of life; having to move into a nursing home; the inability to have or create a meaningful life; feeling like a burden to family or loved ones; and an overall loss of independence and feeling life conditions were intolerable. Of course, both groups felt this way – they were elders looking ahead on all the implications of disease that could cause an unbearable ending to their lives.

Perille’s comparisons to making it easier for teens to end their lives with this bill is completely irrelevant. This bill has nothing to do with the upsurge of teens and depression. I don’t think many doctors would prescribe medication to end a teen’s life without a disease-ridden situation.

Also, perhaps Perille didn’t think his 96-year-old father had no value or was less of a man when he helped him with his bathrooming tasks. But I’m sure his father felt those things. When can we begin to respect the dignity and wishes of the aged and ill?

For all these reasons, please, let state senators and representatives know that this bill does have a place in Colorado.

Martha McClellan writes the Authentic Aging column and is a longtime advocate of Medical Aid in Dying .