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Senior Housing > Blog > 2016 > August

Colorado May Approve Suicide Drugs for the Terminally Ill

Earlier this week we learned that Colorado voters will have an interesting – and controversial – topic on their November ballot. Lawmakers will be asking voters to decide whether or not suicide through drugs for the terminally ill will be legal in Colorado. Initiative 145, also referred to as “Medical Aid in Dying” would do the following:

  • Suicide drugs will be restricted to terminally ill patients who are at least 18 years of age
  • Only individuals who have a terminal illness with less than six months to live would qualify
  • The terminally patient must be able to self-administer the medications
  • Two physicians would be required to sign off on the terminal diagnosis
  • The patient would be required to be mentally competent

The Medical Aid in Dying initiative was just approved on Monday (August 15) as having enough petition signatures to make it on the ballot come November. Colorado would not be only state in the country to have some sort of initiative in place pertaining to suicide of the terminally ill. There are currently five other states that have some sort of law in place allowing those with a terminal medical diagnosis to take their own lives. Oregon passed the nation’s very first “right-to-die” law in 1998, followed soon thereafter by Washington, Vermont, and California just last year. In 2009, Montana’s Supreme Court rules that doctors could use a terminally ill patient’s request for life-ending medication as defense against any potential criminal charges.

It is important to note that two very similar measures as the Medical Aid in Dying initiative previously failed in the Colorado Legislature.

This is an important move for the state of Colorado and our nation as a whole, the healthcare sector has come under fire in recent years for restricting terminally ill patients from ending their own lives. This is certainly an issue of ethics and personal beliefs, but it is also something that should be approached from a medical and neutral standpoint.

We will be keeping a watchful eye on the upcoming election and keep you posted on any new developments. This measure would undoubtedly have an impact on the senior housing industry, as many patients residing in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities are faced with a terminal sentence, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

A Look at the End-of-Life Care Debate

In recent months there has been a lot of discussion regarding end-of-life care standards, which clearly pertains to those in skilled nursing. Often considered a human rights debate, end-of-life care is a tricky subject that requires a great deal of thought and planning on the part of the skilled nursing facility (SNF) community. When looking at residents in nursing homes and other assisted living facilities, it is important to remember that they oftentimes have medical conditions that are both serious and vulnerable. In fact, many people are living with conditions that affect the memory and their motor skills, which can be extremely difficult for the patient and their caregivers.

Losing independence is never easy, but it is a stark reality for those within the SNF community. In order to better serve our residents and their family members, it is absolutely imperative that we take the time to discuss end-of-life care and what this means. We understand this is a difficult and at times trying subject matter, but it is important to not turn a blind eye and, instead, adopt a realistic and humane approach.

Right vs. Wrong in End-of-Life Care

End-of-life care is undoubtedly a difficult subject to broach for many, but it is also a necessity. As Baby Boomers get older and our SNFs continue to make adjustments to accommodate this new generation, it is of the utmost importance that we take a step back and make an effort to better understand the needs and viewpoints of our soon-to-be residents. There are many situations which require ethical standards, such as end-of-life care. When looking at the elderly and the type of care they require and deserve, dignity cannot help but be factor. There are no doubt two sides to every debate, but it is important to recognize that there is nothing dignified about being a medically fragile, dependent elderly person living in a nursing home.

So, what do you do, and what is the role of the SNF? For now, that is still debatable. Regardless of what side of the fence you are on, it is important to take a humane approach to the matter and consider the nursing home residents and their personal wishes. There are numerous ways that long-term care professionals can have a positive, lasting impact on SNF residents, especially in end-of-life care scenarios. It is important to be open and forthcoming with SNF residents and their family members, and also work hard to ensure communication line are open. Behaving in an ethical and dignified manner is an important part of working in the SNF field, but this does not always happen.

To learn more about the role of SNFs in the continued discussion of end-of-life care, please contact Shep Roylance of The JCH Group today.