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Colorado Lawmakers Revisit Right-To-Die Bill

DENVER (AP) — Legislation allowing terminally ill patients to end their lives with doctor-prescribed drugs will be introduced again next year in Colorado, where supporters hope to capitalize on California's recent passage of a right-to-die law.

But it will be a challenging task for Colorado Democrats sponsoring the emotionally charged proposal during the 2016 election cycle, when control of both chambers of the Legislature is at stake. Most of the opposition to the bill comes from Republicans, but Democrats have to also convince members of their own party to vote for the legislation.

When a similar proposal failed in February during the previous legislative session, lawmakers from both parties voted against it.

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday making his state the fifth where physician-assisted deaths are legal, and that has made proponents of right-to-die legislation optimistic about possible successes elsewhere. New Jersey and Massachusetts have pending bills, for example.

"It is an election year, and that a lot of times makes legislators hesitant to take on controversial issues. That being said, we just had a tremendous success in California," said Roland Halpern, regional campaign and outreach manager for Compassion and Choices, a national advocacy group that supports bills giving dying patients the option to end their lives.

The other states where doctors can prescribe life-ending drugs are Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana.

Last year's bill in Colorado was modeled after Oregon's law, requiring two doctors to sign off on their oral and written requests to end their lives. The patients also would have needed to be found to be mentally competent and be able to administer the life-ending medication themselves.

Opponents of the legislation have argued that it facilitates suicide in cases where a doctor's diagnosis may be wrong. They're also worried the medication prescribed to dying patients can be easily accessible to others.

"It's a prescription for disaster," said Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain, a lawmaker who opposed the bill last session.

Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, one of the lawmakers drafting the bill for the Colorado session that begins in January, said she's working to address concerns from opponents.

But it will be difficult to convince those morally opposed to the idea.

"I'm Catholic and I'm opposed to it," Landgraf said, adding: "I think for everybody life is sacred and should be cherished. I don't think you have to be a Catholic."

The story of Brittany Maynard last year brought attention to the debate. Maynard, 29, moved from California to Oregon after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer so she could use Oregon's law. She died Nov. 1.

Colorado lawmakers proposed the bill last session after Charles Selsberg, 77, urged them to take on the issue with a commentary published in The Denver Post shortly before his death from ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Ginal said she continues to hear from constituents who support giving people with a terminal illness the right to end their suffering. "I'm doing this for what my constituents want," she said.

By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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