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DENVER (AP) — Colorado Democrats unveiled what's sure to be one of the most emotionally charged proposals of the year — legislation to give terminally ill patients the right to choose when they die, with the help of doctor-prescribed medication.
Democrats announced details of the bill Tuesday while surrounded by a couple of a dozen supporters who wore green stickers that read: "My life. My death. My choice."
The debate over whether terminally ill patients should be allowed to end their lives is a national one, and it's gotten opposition from some doctors and religious organizations who view such laws as facilitating suicide and taking away patients' hope.
The bill introduced in Colorado requires dying patients to get two doctors to sign off on their verbal and written request to end their lives. The patients must be also determined to be mentally competent, and they have to be able to administer the life-ending medication themselves.
Five states have laws allowing patients to seek aid in dying: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. Pennsylvania, Wyoming and California have pending proposals.
The Colorado legislation was inspired by Charles Selsberg, 77, who urged legislators to take on the issue with an editorial published in The Denver Post last February shortly before his death. Selsberg died of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
"I can't help but cry every time I think about Charlie," Rep. Lois Court, a Denver Democrat sponsoring the Colorado bill, said as she choked up Tuesday. Selsberg was Court's constituent.
Selsberg's daughter, Julie, recalled how her father chose to starve himself instead of continuing to suffer from his disease. She said she's not advocating for others to choose to die with the help of a doctor.
"But it is so obvious to me that it is the kind and compassionate option to give to somebody who would want it," she said.
Dr. William Bolthouse, a family physician in Denver, said the legislation would be detrimental to patient-doctor relationship because his goal is to try to do everything in his power to help the people he treats.
"One of my greatest assets, besides my medical education, is the trust I have with my patients. When I go to my exam room, I consider it holy ground," he said. "For 2,000 years, we've had this tradition that we don't help people kill themselves."
He also cautioned that it's sometimes impossible to know exactly how long a patient has to live, noting that he's sometimes been incorrect.
"I've been fooled many times thinking that this patient is surely going to pass away and they end up walking out of the hospital," he said.
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