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Coombs Lee: ‘Death With Dignity’ Gains With Aging Population


Thank the aging population for increased acceptance of so-called “Death with Dignity” laws.

That’s what Compassion & Choices president Barbara Coombs Lee writes in an Op-Ed following legalization of the controversial practice in Colorado.

On Election Day, Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved the End-of-Life Options ballot initiative. The measure – Proposition 106 – is modeled on Oregon’s 1994 controversial physician-assisted suicide law. It allows patients in the final stages of an irreversibly fatal illness and with a life expectancy of six months or less to obtain a prescription for lethal barbiturates, which would be self-administered.

“One thing the national election did not change: as the nation’s 75 million baby boomers retire, an ever growing number grapple with the reality that people die in circumstances they would not choose,” Coombs Lee writes for The Hill’s Congress Blog, which has since been picked up by numerous publications. “At a time when the country is divided, the election showed one issue unites us: personal choice in end of life care.”

Nineteen states introduced similar bills last year. However, the practice is still only legal in only a handful of states, including Washington, Oregon, Vermont and Montana. California Gov. Jerry Brown was the latest governor to sign a “right-to-die” proposal into in 2015.

Despite calls for legalization from a growing number of proponents and others who came to support physician-assisted suicide in the wake of the high-profile death of Brittany Maynard, the American Medical Association remains firmly opposed to such policy.

To build upon the gains of the movement, Coombs Lee is calling for a “transformation” of end of life care.

“(To) harness the power of this movement, the palliative care community and medical establishment must embrace patients’ desire for self-determination, including shortening an intolerable dying process,” she writes. “Only by working together will we finally make noticeable, significant improvements on key quality indicators of end of life care. ”

Palliative medicine is often misunderstood. It is care designed to provide comfort, not cure, for people near death. Such care does not hasten death, but aims to increase patients’ quality of life.