Medical Aid-in-Dying Law Remains a Compassionate Option for Terminally Ill Residents, Five Years After Taking Effect

February 17, 2022

(Denver, CO)  A new report from the Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) Vital Statistics Program shows that five years after the implementation of Colorado’s medical aid-in-dying law, this compassionate medical practice continues to offer peace to qualified, terminally ill Coloradans.

In 2021, 222 patients received prescriptions for aid-in-dying medications under the provisions of the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act. This represents an 18% increase in the number of prescriptions compared to 2020. Of those individuals who received a prescription, 156 went on to fill the medication with a pharmacist.

In the five years since its enactment, a total of 583 terminally ill residents have filled a prescription for aid-in-dying medication.

The statistics in the report for deaths are based on all deaths identified among individuals prescribed aid-in-dying medication, whether or not they used this medication, and noting that death may have been caused by ingestion of medical aid-in-dying medication, the underlying terminal illness or condition, or some other cause.

Prescriptions written in 2021 for aid-in-dying medication were provided by 71 unique Colorado physicians and filled by 24 unique pharmacists. Over the five-year period 2017-2021, prescriptions were written by 198 individual physicians.

The report also shows that 86% of those who were prescribed the medication died at home in 2021, and 86% of people who were given a prescription were receiving hospice care at the time of their death.

“This year’s report marks the five year anniversary of the End of Life Options Act, and the data shows the law continues to work as it was intended,” said Compassion & Choices President & CEO Kim Callinan. “As in the ten other states and Washington, DC where medical aid in dying is authorized, the law has empowered terminally ill Coloradans to take control over their healthcare decisions, and we hear from them that it gives them enormous peace of mind just knowing the option is there.”

In 2021, 61% of those who received a prescription had terminal cancer, followed by progressive neurological disorders (such as ALS or Parkinson’s) at 18%, cardiovascular disease at 6%, and chronic lower respiratory disease at 5%.

“The End of Life Options Act provides terminally ill patients an additional option to manage their last days, giving them greater peace of mind,” said Dr. Cory Carroll, a Fort Collins family physician and one of the two National Medical Directors for Compassion & Choices. “Maybe more importantly, the law helps open the dialog between doctor and patient about quality of life and what they truly value, so they can live out their final days, weeks and months on their own terms.”

The End of Life Options Act, passed by 65% of Colorado voters in 2016, was one of the most popular ballot measures in state history, with over 1.7 million Coloradans supporting this safe, compassionate medical practice. The law authorizes mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to request a doctor’s prescription for medication that they can decide to self-ingest to die peacefully if their end-of-life suffering becomes unbearable. The law took effect on Dec. 16, 2016.

“For physicians and other practitioners, medical aid in dying is part of a continuum of care at the end of life that includes hospice, palliative care and other non-curative modalities,” said Dr. Susan Wilhoit, a Denver-area palliative care specialist and one of two National Medical Directors for Compassion & Choices. “The majority of those who request a prescription under the Colorado law are enrolled in hospice and are supported by an interdisciplinary team dedicated to helping them maintain their quality of life until their passing.”

“We are grateful to Colorado voters who showed courage and leadership in making this option available in their state, and to the many doctors, nurses, social workers, family members and others who support terminally ill people through their final days, weeks and months,” added Callinan.

Medical aid-in-dying is now authorized in eleven jurisdictions (California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaiʻi, Oregon, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington) and is available to more than one out of five Americans.  In  20+ years of experience in Oregon and decades of combined experience across the other authorized jurisdictions, Compassion & Choices has learned that three of the keys to ensuring individuals may access these laws are: Education of patients and medical providers; removing burdensome regulatory barriers; and consistent data collection.

Read the full report here: https://cdphe.colorado.gov/center-for-health-and-environmental-data/registries-and-vital-statistics/medical-aid-in-dying

Compassion & Choices
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