More Colorado Patients Seek Aid-in-Dying Drugs

The number of Coloradans who have received orders to end their lives has increased every year since voters passed an assisted dying law in 2016, rising 18% in 2021.

Last year, 222 people obtained prescriptions for the lethal doses of drugs, which they must ingest themselves after obtaining approval from two doctors who certify that they have a terminal illness and that it they have less than six months to live. This brings the total number of prescriptions over five years since the End-of-Life Options Act was passed to 777, according to a recently completed study. law report by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The department has tracked how many of those 777 prescriptions were issued — 583 — but is not required to follow up with the patients’ families or doctors to find out how many of those patients actually took the drug. Also, by law, the cause of death listed on patients’ death certificates is not suicide but their underlying terminal illness, so it’s not known if they took the dose – a mixture drugs called DDMA and DDMP – to end their lives.

The median time between the date of a prescription last year and the patient’s death was 18 days.

The report also revealed that the 777 prescriptions written over the past five years came from 198 physicians.

These figures agree with a study by Dr. Eric Campbell, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and a researcher in biomedical ethics. The research, which included 300 physician surveys, found that many physicians are still hesitant to prescribe the drug.

Campbell found that 81% of Colorado physicians said they were willing to discuss physician-assisted dying with their patients, and 88% were willing to refer them to a doctor who would prescribe the drug. However, less than half of physicians, 46%, were willing to sign off as a consulting physician on an assisted dying order, and even fewer than that, 28%, were willing to serve as an attending or primary physician. on such an order.

And while more than 80% of physicians said they were willing to discuss physician-assisted dying, fewer were willing or had actually done so, Campbell’s research found. About 52% said they had discussed assisted dying with a patient.

“What that means is people in general feel ready to do it, fewer are prepared and even fewer have actually done it,” Campbell said.

Among physicians who had prescribed physician-assisted dying, 75% said it was “emotionally fulfilling and professionally rewarding.” Almost 47% described it as “ethically difficult”.

The majority of patients who have been prescribed death aid medications in the past five years have suffered from cancer or neurological disease. Two doctors are required to sign the prescription, and if there is any doubt about the patient’s mental capacity to make the decision, the patient is supposed to have a mental health consultation with a psychologist or psychiatrist.

State data shows that in many cases not all required documents were submitted as required by law. The state has a record of 667 referring physician forms for 777 prescriptions written over the past five years, so 110 are missing.

In addition, the state health department only recorded 605 patient request forms and 579 consulting physician reports.

Over the five years, only five Mental Health Provider Confirmation Forms were submitted. However, these are only necessary when the mental capacity of the patient is in question.

The state health department report notes that the required documentation was incomplete, but says the attending physician’s form attests that all legal requirements have been met. The ministry continues to educate physicians about the requirements, the report said.

The average age of those seeking prescriptions last year was 73, while the youngest was around 20, according to the state health department. Patients receiving medical assistance in dying must be at least 18 years old and live in Colorado, under the law passed by voters in 2016.

Lethal drugs, usually a powder, are often mixed with a drink – some proponents of assisted death suggest strong liquor, hot water, juice or Gatorade – or a pudding, yogurt or compote apples. Most Coloradans who have received ordinances over the past five years have died at home.

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