Colorado is on the verge of becoming the third state to eliminate its residency requirement for medical aid in dying, as proposed by Senate Bill 68. The bill aims to not only remove the residency restriction but also reduce the mandatory waiting period for individuals seeking to end their lives from 15 days to 48 hours. Notably, it introduces the provision for advanced practice registered nurses to prescribe aid-in-dying medication alongside physicians.
Introduced on January 22, 2024, Senate Bill 68 seeks to address perceived barriers unintentionally imposed by a previous ballot measure, Proposition 106, approved by Colorado voters eight years ago. The ballot measure legalized aid in dying for terminally ill adults with a life expectancy of less than six months, requiring approval from two doctors.
Advocates of the new bill argue that it will enhance access to end-of-life options and ensure individuals receive the care and medication they need for a peaceful transition on their own terms. Senator Joann Ginal, a leading sponsor of the legislation, emphasizes the importance of facilitating a more compassionate and timely process for those choosing this option.
Colorado currently joins a limited number of states—only 10—permitting medical aid in dying. The proposed changes echo the recent shifts in Oregon and Vermont, both of which eliminated residency requirements in 2022 and May, respectively.
Concerns about "aid-in-dying tourism" have been raised, with skeptics suggesting that individuals from out-of-state may flood Colorado seeking this option. However, advocates dismiss these fears, pointing out the significant challenges faced by terminally ill patients in relocating during their final stages of life.
The bill also addresses the waiting period issue, recognizing that, for many, the 15-day requirement can act as an artificial barrier. In cases where a patient is unlikely to live for the prescribed waiting period, the 48-hour waiting period in Colorado may be waived, aligning with a similar provision in New Mexico's law.
Stories like that of Jesse Ankerholz and his late wife, Andrea, highlight the difficulties some individuals face in navigating the medical aid-in-dying process. For those with longer life expectancies, finding doctors willing to endorse the end-of-life option can create additional challenges.
With more than 1,090 patients prescribed life-ending medication in the period between 2017 and 2022, Colorado's existing law has been utilized, primarily by individuals suffering from terminal cancer followed by neurological diseases.
Scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee in late February, Senate Bill 68 currently lacks registered opposition in the state's lobbying database. However, the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition has expressed reservations, and past opposition from the Catholic Church suggests potential challenges ahead.
Senator Ginal compares the current initiative to Colorado Democrats' efforts to expand abortion options, emphasizing the importance of choices at both the beginning and end of life. Supporters like Kim Callinan of Compassion and Choices argue that the proposed changes align with the original intent of voters who sought to prevent unnecessary suffering in accessing the law.
As the bill progresses through the legislative process, individuals like Jesse Ankerholz hope for its passage, aiming to spare others from the challenges and delays his late wife experienced.