Myth-busting facts on physician-assisted suicide in Colorado

Two identical bills that aim to make physician-assisted suicide legal in Colorado were introduced Jan. 13 in the State Senate and House—Senate Bill 25 and House Bill 1054. A bill to do the same was introduced last year and defeated. This year’s bill is extreme.

Watch below a short two-minute video by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila in which he asks all Catholics of northern Colorado to join him in asking our legislators to say no to physician-assisted suicide. For more information on how you can help, visit www.archden.org/life.

The advocacy group Compassion & Choices, which claims to have been instrumental in passing similar legislation in California, is promoting the bill and lobbying our lawmakers here in Colorado. In an effort to arm our readers with the best information available, we are publishing some of the most common myths promoted by the physician assisted suicide lobby, and the facts to refute them.

MYTH #1: No one will be pressured to end their life.

FACT: When Oregon passed its own euthanasia bill in 1997, they soon discovered that many lower-income patients were being disqualified for hospital care under Medicaid or Medicare, because it was cheaper to give them a bottle of suicide pills.

Time Magazine interviewed one such woman, Barbara Wagner, for a story titled “There’s Nothing Progressive About Physician-Assisted Suicide”, published in October 2015. “To say to someone, ‘we’ll pay for you to die, but not pay for you to live,’ it’s cruel,” Wagner said.

MYTH #2: Most people choose euthanasia because they don’t want to suffer.

FACT: According to the same Time article, the top three reasons people in Oregon chose euthanasia was because of fear of losing autonomy (91.5 percent), decreasing ability to engage in enjoyable activities (88.7 percent) and losing dignity (79.3 percent). Only 23 percent listed physical pain or fear of physical pain as a reason for their choice. In other words, people are choosing suicide because they’re afraid of losing independence, fun and dignity. That begs the question—do we want to become a society in which those who are most vulnerable among us would rather kill themselves rather than risk losing their independence or becoming a burden?

MYTH #3: The heart of the battle is the “right to die.”

FACT: Anyone can die. In fact, people do it every day. However, until now, we have not allowed our doctors to purposefully hurt patients. We actually require them to take an oath to “do no harm.” What’s at stake is our understanding of physicians and what it means to be a doctor. Are they supposed to heal and treat us, or are they the gatekeepers between life and death?

We’re also looking at redefining suicide itself. Rocky Shaw said in an interview by the New York Times that before California legalized euthanasia last year, the act of someone taking a lethal dose of drugs was ruled as a suicide. The new law states that “self-administration of an aid-in-dying drug is not suicide.”

MYTH #4: Colorado will adopt all of Oregon’s provisions to protect patients from abuse of physician-assisted suicide.

FACT: Colorado’s new bill removes all required documentation, even from the patient’s medical record. John Volk is a family physician in Greeley and a deacon at St. John the Baptist in Johnstown and St. Nicholas in Platteville. He said this action is unprecedented. “Proponents point to Oregon’s law as the ‘gold standard’ for protecting patients from abuse, largely based on their claim that ‘there are no reports of abuse in Oregon,’” Volk said.

Oregon, Washington and California’s laws all require physicians to fill out reports and documents. These include oral and written requests from the patient, verification of competence and report of counseling outcome. Senate Bill 25 and House Bill 1054 remove all of these requirements.

“This is unprecedented in existing law and proposed legislation, removing even the minimal reporting under Oregon’s law. This increases the likelihood of abuse, removes statutory incentive for doctors to follow the law and makes it nearly impossible for the state to prove violation of the law. This change increases protection of doctors and decreases protection for patients,” Volk said.

MYTH #5: The patient will administer the drug to himself or herself.

FACT: The 2016 bill eliminated the phrase “by ingestion” from the section that explained how the pills are to be administered (p. 6). This might sound like a minor linguistic point, but the implications are huge.

“‘By ingestion’ was a requirement to ensure that the patient was able to commit the act themselves without the aid of a third party,” Volk said.

The change makes it possible for a third party to prepare and administer the lethal drugs by hand feeding or even by insertion into a feeding tube of an incapacitated patient.

In addition, the new bill establishes total immunity for anyone involved.

According to Volk, this gives physicians and others the ability to ignore laws and act without accountability.

“No other medical situation grants such blanket immunity,” Volk said. “This immunity is extended to any person— including anyone who is present at the time.”

For more information on how you can help, visit www.archden.org/life.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.