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Making some gains with MAID

At the end of October, we held an end-of-life-options forum here in Durango. The people from End of Life Options Colorado came from Denver to explain the Medical Aid in Dying Law (MAID), introduce Dr. Erin Clarkinson (now doing palliative care here), and head up a question-and-answer session. Over 100 people attended, the information was thorough, and such interesting questions were asked and answered.

I feel this was a watershed event, in that Durango has been behind the curve as far as being able to use the MAID law, enabling people with a six-month fatal medical diagnosis to end their lives by the ingestion of a prescribed drug. The Colorado law was voted on and passed by 65% in 2016, and enacted in 2017. Since then, it has been almost impossible to find two doctors here who would follow through with the process (diagnosing, signing and prescribing), locate a compounding drugstore that would process the drugs, or experience the compassionate care and support one must go through in order for this to happen.

There has been a sort of “underground” web of support, and a few people have been able to execute the procedure. It is the law! So by the EOLOC presenting this information publicly, hopefully more doctors besides Clarkinson, will come on board and we will be able to use this method if we qualify and choose to.

People don’t know how to start the process, and I’m recommending that if each of the people at the forum told (not asked) their doctor they were interested in this option as a possibility at the end of their lives depending on circumstances, then maybe we could advance the cause. Many of us are not near death, but are starting to think about it, what would happen, how would we deal with it, etc. We need to get things in order now, so that if we do become infirm, plans will be laid out, our family will know our wishes, and we and our loved ones will understand how to proceed.

Any doctor affiliated with Mercy Hospital cannot be involved because of its Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives:

“Centura Health has a long tradition of believing in the sanctity of life, extending compassionate care and relieving suffering. These fundamental values are reflected in the depth and breadth of support and comfort services we offer, including palliative care, hospice care, spiritual care services and mental health services, so patients and their families may live with dignity until the patient’s time of death. Centura Health facilities and providers do not provide medical aid in dying medication or related services.”

There was an elephant in the room at that Saturday forum, though. One of the questions was “I have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease – what can you do for me?” Everyone took notice, the room silenced and we were all relieved that someone asked this very important and relevant question.

None of the diseases with indefinite (if we can be definite) death dates qualify for the MAID law. One must have a specific medical diagnosis of six months or less to live. Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s do not qualify. This is the sad state of our medical world, that a gentle, planned and sacred death is not on the table for these people. They must possibly suffer intolerable pain and discomfort in their end years. There are other options, and I refer people to the Final Exit Network website for more information.

But we are making some progress in the MAID direction as a country. Colorado is trying to eliminate the 15 day wait period between the two doctors’ certifications. And, both Vermont and Oregon have eliminated their state residency requirements for MAID. People may come from other states to go through this procedure.

May we all experience the basic human right to choose to end our lives when we judge our quality of life unacceptable, or suffer insurmountable pain and agony. And, to have the integrity of a peaceful and dignified death.

Martha McClellan has lived in Durango since 1993 and has been an educator, consultant and writer. Reach her at mmm@bresnan.net.