News

California’s new aid-in-dying law is getting much more use than Colorado’s

Author: Joey Bunch - June 29, 2017 - Updated: June 29, 2017

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California

The Los Angeles Times published a story this week that says California’s 6-month-old aid-in-dying law has allowed 111 terminally ill people to end their lives. That stands in stark contrast to what we know about Colorado’s new law, which took effect in December.

The advocacy group Compassion & Choices told Colorado Politics it knew of only about 10 people who had used the option, but the information was anecdotal. Our subscribers had access to our deep dive into the issue last weekend online in a cover story for our Statesman magazine titled “Aid in dying: Terminally ill Coloradans can choose to live or die under new law.”

Some but not all of the discrepancy can be explained by population. California is a state of nearly 30 million people. Colorado has about 5.6 million and Oregon about 4 million.

Oregon had 16 in 1998, the year its Death with Dignity Act took effect.  Last year, 203 Oregonians requested the medication, and 133 people died, according to the state health department’s annual report.

Colorado voters passed Proposition 106 last November by a 2 to 1 margin, but the law doesn’t provide the kind of reporting California and Oregon have. Those who petitioned the measure onto the ballot thought those who make a private decision shouldn’t be a definite statistic.

A report on the new Colorado law isn’t due until the end of the year, but the state Department of Public Health and Environment won’t know exactly how many people died. The department can chart the number of prescriptions written, but death certificates will still note the person’s terminal illness.

About 1 in 3 people who get the prescription don’t exercise the option, based on Oregon’s two decades of data.

The Los Angeles Times story said 191 prescriptions had been written, yielding the 111 deaths.

“Though California is far more diverse than Oregon, the majority of those who have died under aid-in-dying laws in both states were white, college-educated cancer patients older than 60,” the article said.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.