Catholic Hospitals Defy Colorado’s Assisted Suicide Law

News: US News
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  January 20, 2017   

Pro-suicide advocate: "It has a chilling effect"

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DENVER ( - Catholic hospitals in Colorado are refusing to co-operate with the state's new physician-assisted suicide law.

Begun by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, SCL Health published the following statement this week on their 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."

Last week Centura Health — operated by Catholic Health Initiatives in conjunction with Adventist Health System — publicized that it was opting out of the law, which took effect last month.

In November, Colorado voters passed Proposition 106, Medical Aid in Dying, by a two-thirds majority. The approved ballot initiative allows mentally capable patients to end their lives using lethal medication prescribed by a doctor. To put the measure into practice the patient must be:

  • 18 or older

  • deemed mentally capable

  • diagnosed by two doctors with having fewer than six months to live

  • able to self-administer the lethal medication

The Denver archdiocese donated more than $1.6 million to defeat the ballot initiative in the No Assisted Suicide Campaign. The attempt was unsuccessful, and Colorado became the sixth state to let physicians help patients kill themselves. Similar laws have been passed by Oregon, Washington, California, Vermont and Montana.

What makes Colorado unique is that one third of its hospitals are owned or affiliated with Catholic institutions. It's these healthcare providers who are leading the resistance against the pro-death law. With Catholics leading the way, even secular-run hospitals are following suit. Now, the state's third biggest healthcare system, HealthOne, is resisting the law. The secular-based institute is refusing to dispense life-ending drugs or allow patients to take them on their property.

Catholic hospitals are claiming their right to opt out is based on the wording of the law itself. In its statement this week, SCL affirmed, "Under the act, healthcare providers, including SCL Health, are not required to assist qualified patients in ending their lives, and providers are required to establish policies supporting their positions."

The conscience provision in Colorado is similar to legislation in the other five states. But like Vermont, the Colorado law bars healthcare systems from prohibiting their doctors from discussing end-of-life options with patients or from writing prescriptions to be taken elsewhere.

Kat West, national director of policy for Compassion and Choice, believes the Catholic hospitals are exceeding the legal limits of the new law. "From what we've seen, it appears that Centura's and SCL's policies go beyond what is allowed under the law." She indicated that a lawsuit is "a distinct possibility."

Colorodo's Catholic hospitals, nevertheless, are standing their ground. SCL says it's committed to providing curative and comfort care for its patients instead of killing them:

We provide palliative and hospice care, and strive to mitigate suffering and address the fear of pain and loss of control that patients may experience. We believe we can provide compassionate care and comfort to our patients so they can live with dignity until the time of natural death, and we have therefore opted out of participation.


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