Monday, February 26, 2024

Jacqueline Abernathy opposing Colorado assisted suicide expansion Bill SB 068

Dear Honorable Members of the Colorado State Assembly Senate Health & Human Services Committee,

Jacqueline Abernathy
I write today to urge you to oppose SB 068 and its blatant attempt to welcome suicide tourism in Colorado and put Coloradans at risk by expanding assisted suicide access to non-residents. I implore you as a public policy scholar fearful of how Colorado could betray the safety of its own most vulnerable citizens simply to put other citizens at risk as well. Your bill is a gross overstep to endanger citizens in other states while increasing the threat to your own constituents. 

I speak as an expert on this very topic, a bioethicist with a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Policy and a bibliography of scholarly peer-reviewed publications on assisted suicide and end-of-life medical decision-making. Where your duty is to the people of Colorado, entertaining the overreach inherent to SB 068 betrays the health and safety of those you are called to protect. This is why all eyes are upon you and non-residents like myself, who have an equal entitlement to weigh in on your decision in Colorado.

Regardless of what instigates it, suicide is generally an impulsive act of desperation, most often borne of fear. Enabling hasty irreversible decisions to self-destruct is not meant to limit any negative outcomes to the patient through delays. This bill will simply accommodate non-residents who travel to Colorado to obtain a deadly prescription from a total stranger who will only have them as a patient as long as it takes to dispense the lethal dose. SB 068 would create a market for these niche practices that do nothing but dispense deadly suicide drugs. The provisions negated in SB 068 include competent physician requirements, reflection and review periods, second opinions about prognoses and mental capacity, and the independence of physician assessments of each patient’s case. This bill eschews any semblance of an existing doctor-patient relationship by a physician well acquainted with the patient and their particular set of circumstances. SB 068 does not feign to value doctor opinions at all, striking every use of the word “physician” in favor of provider in order to allow lesser-qualified non-physicians to dispense the deadly poisons in a fraction of the time. This appears to accommodate specialty death clinics of ideologically pro-euthanasia on-demand doctors and nurses who can blindly validate each other’s conclusions out of their position that death on demand is a personal right for those who meet any legal or ethical criteria. This directly affronts the reason for the Colorado law to require a consultative review: as a safeguard to independently assess and concur with the attending physician’s conclusion that a patient is indeed terminally ill and mentally competent without signs of coercion or duress.

SB 068’s embrace of logistics to enable vendor suicide businesses negates any remaining provisions meant to protect Colorado citizens as total smokescreen. Whereas 14 days was the length of time for a resident advised by their existing doctor, surrounded by their family, greater community, extended support network and familiar resources, now anyone can visit a clinic for a rubber-stamped approval to kill themselves within two days. It strikes time for an adequate review of each patient’s case, limiting opportunity for further reflection by patients. There is no time for scrutiny or basic due diligence regarding someone’s alleged terminal prognosis and increases the likelihood of patient misdiagnosis and the possibility of treatable depression. A review of studies also determined that physicians’ medical diagnoses were often incorrect, both in declaring a patient to have a terminal condition and estimating their life expectancy at six months or fewer. Another study of physicians who were willing to prescribe the lethal dose found that 27 percent were not confident that they could determine if a patient only had six months or fewer to live. There is also substantial evidence that many patients opting to end their lives suffer from treatable depression and physicians report that patients for whom interventions were made (like treating depression) were more likely to change their minds about wanting to end their lives.

Whereas tax exportation to increase state budgets by encouraging tourism is within your scope as lawmakers, this would only increase revenue at the invaluable health and safety expense of those citizens who no longer have any safeguards thanks to enabling non-residents, but furthermore, this does not factor in the actual monetary and human costs of cleaning up after the deceased. 

The bill assumes that non-residents would just be trying to subvert their own state laws against assisted suicide but how many might be trying to subvert loved ones back home as well or have no one to return to anyway? While it is true that most suicides (77%) occur at home, those who travel here from their homes out-of-state just to obtain deadly drugs because SB 068 designed this option for that express purpose that they will not leave alive. Where do suicidal people who don’t have as ready access to their home as a place to end their lives? National parks are prime suicide destinations as is, particularly in the west where suicide the second leading cause of death, costs over a quarter-million dollars in recovery and identification efforts per victim. The Colorado National Monument attracts dozens of despondent people who self-destruct each year, but with the means to death in their pocket, any public place can become the spot someone chooses to die if they are inclined. There can only be added costs and psychological trauma to the Colorado residents who will face the aftermath of inviting this added violence. Mere exposure to suicide often leads to suicide among the responders and survivors, and this is true of those who discover a deceased loved one at home. For every quick, exported suicide that was started in Colorado but completed in a neighboring state for those residents to deal with the unpleasant consequences, there are sure to be secret, expedited death plans of residents enabled by SB 068. Making suicide so quick and easy can only mean more shocked survivors of hasty death plans by Coloradans hiding their intentions, leaving notes for their children or spouses explaining that they sought a hasty overdose from a nurse in Denver just days after learning their diagnosis because they “didn’t want to be a burden,” never knowing that their grieving survivors would give anything to have had a chance to tell them how desperately their family wanted to care for them for what precious time they had left.

In a state that ranks among the highest for per capita suicides (46 out of 50), so this would merely add a so-called legitimate form of self-violence to what your state calls a “public health crisis” and cost enormous sums of tax dollars to prevent. SB 068 only serves to usher in more death and destruction of Colorado residents by inviting the death and destruction of non-residents. Attempting to usurp the laws of other state legislatures to impose your will can only be done by endangering and burdening the citizens you are called to protect. 

Do your duty. Vote NO on SB 068.


Jacqueline Harvey Abernathy, Ph.D., M.S.S.W.
Dallas, Texas

1 comment:

KathleenLundquist said...

[Applause!]. Well said, Jacqueline!