It didn’t take long for Colorado legislators to kick up controversy in the current session of the General Assembly. Courageous lawmakers are introducing, and show every sign of fighting hard for, a “right to die” law similar to the one Oregon has had since 1997. Washington, Montana, and Vermont have similar laws, and 14 states besides Colorado have bills either before their legislatures or being drafted.
Variously called “assisted suicide,” “right to die,” and “death with dignity,” such laws allow terminally ill people, while still of sound mind, to avoid prolonged agony and the loss of human dignity that usually comes with dying of a ravaging disease.
There is much that is logical about making such a decision possible. Hospice care of a dying patient is incredibly expensive; the idea is to keep the patient as “comfortable as possible” in the final weeks, days, and hours, while nature goes about its sluggish process of killing the patient. That requires massive doses of painkillers while the body struggles to complete its assigned chores, all of which produce various effluents and odors, none pleasant. I’ve watched people die in hospice; it’s an awful way to go, no matter how comforting the word “hospice” sounds.
Fighting to stay alive to the bitter end is also costly and can bankrupt families of modest means. And the victim isn’t the only one who suffers. I can attest that there is no pain worse than that of watching a loved one die slowly, and my experience was mild compared to others who have watched spouses, parents, and even children succumb to creeping death.
A right-to-die law would allow a victim in the final stages of cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or any of the other terminal illnesses to surrender without enduring the pain of the disease’s ultimate victory. The method would essentially be a lethal dose of medication that would stop the heart. I don’t have space here to describe the process; suffice it to say it isn’t easy to get the necessary medical approvals, and tipping back the lethal brew (you don’t just swallow a couple of pills; it take s massive dose of barbiturates) can be a moment of intense self-examination.
Taking one’s own life is not to be done lightly, and Colorado’s bill will have in it all of the safeguards and emergency buttons necessary to make sure no one uses it to escape their rightful worldly obligations. And while I hope no one I know and love now will ever have to use it, I want Coloradans to have the right to die with dignity, should the need arise.
There are those who object, of course. According to the Denver Post, Janet Morana, executive director of the New-York based Priests for Life, made the pro forma religious statement about the proposed bill, “You're taking away their hope, and you're taking away their chance for a miracle or a cure.” Reality calling Janet: I don’t believe in your miracles, and if I’m ever sick enough to consider suicide, all hope of a cure will long since be lost. I don’t want to suffer weeks of agony because of your religion, okay?
I hope, after a thorough airing of opinions and with the necessary safeguards built in, Colorado’s death-with-dignity law becomes a reality. It will be another step toward enlightenment and reason for this greatest of states.