Local Catholic hospitals are exercising their right to opt-out of participating in the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act—known during the election cycle as Proposition 106—which legalizes physician-assisted suicide in Colorado.
The aid-in-dying law contains a conscience clause, which allows doctors and providers to opt-out of writing a prescription for life-ending medication.
Citing this clause, three of Colorado’s major health networks — SCL Health, Centura, which are both faith-based, and HealthONE, which is not — have announced that they will not participate in assisted suicide. In total, these three networks account for nearly one-third of Colorado’s hospitals.
What this looks like for each of the networks varies slightly; in the case of SCL Health, it means that doctors and providers employed by its hospitals and clinics are prohibited from administering life-ending prescriptions to patients seeking physician-assisted suicide.
“SCL Health caregivers will continue to provide other requested end-of-life and palliative care services to patients and families,” the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth health system issued in a statement on its website. “Any of our patients wishing to request medical aid-in-dying medication will be offered an opportunity to transfer to another facility of the patient’s choice.”
SCL Health, which oversees Good Samaritan Medical Center, St. Joseph Hospital, Lutheran Hospital and a dozen other hospitals and clinics, is a faith-based, Catholic health network, as is Centura Health, which issued a statement of its own.
“Centura Health has a long tradition of believing in the sanctity of life, extending compassionate care and relieving suffering,” it said. “As permitted by the statute, Centura Health has opted out of participating in the Colorado End-of-Life Options act.”
The hospital network said in the statement that it will continue to provide “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.”
The Denver Post reported that the physicians at HealthONE are allowed to speak with its patients about aid-in-dying and write prescriptions for life-ending drugs, but hospital pharmacies will not fill those prescriptions, and patients are not allowed to take the medication within the walls of the hospital.
Not everyone agrees that these new policies are legal.
In an interview with Stat News, Compassion & Choices national director of policy and programs Kat West said, “From what we’ve seen, it appears that Centura’s and SCL’s policies go beyond what is allowed under the law,” and commented that a legal challenge is “a distinct possibility.”
Other health networks, such as UCHealth, have stated that it will allow its doctors to write life-ending prescriptions, so long as the patient meets the requirements outlined in the law.
As of this writing, Catholic Health Initiatives, which has its headquarters in Englewood and operates 104 hospitals in 18 states, has not issued a policy on the End-of-Life Options Act.
Featured image by Daniel Petty