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'It's A Slap Of Reality': Terminally Ill Man At Center Of Aid-In-Dying Battle

Leaning on a cane, a chemotherapy pump putting medicine into his bloodstream, Neil Mahoney, 64, spoke with CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass about what is expected to happen in a matter of months: his death.

"I want to make sure I have some control over this and make it as easy as possible on my family," Mahoney said.

Diagnosed with inoperable cancer this summer, the former property manager and landscape company worker now finds himself in the middle of a legal fight over Colorado's Medical Aid-in-Dying law, which allows terminally ill patients to end their lives with the assistance of medical professionals. Voters approved the measure in 2016.

But Mahoney, who learned of his bleak diagnosis in July, was a patient of Dr. Barbara Morris, who specialized in geriatric medicine for Centura Health. She had worked for the company since 2013 and been a medical professional for approximately 40 years.

Centura, a faith based healthcare organization, said it would not be associated with aid-in-dying cases because they are not consistent with its "Christian beliefs to promote and defend the sacredness of every human life."

Dr. Barbara Morris poses for a photo with CBS4 on Thursday, September 5. (Louis Ramirez, CBS4)

Knowing the policy, Morris and Mahoney filed a legal action in August asking a court to rule on Centura's policy as it stacks up against state law. Within days, Centura fired Morris stating she had "encouraged a morally unacceptable option."

"It is our religious judgment that your conduct in relation to Mr. Mahoney violates the religious principles upon which the Hospital operates," the hospital wrote to Morris.

Morris' termination was immediate.

"It was stunning, I can't even describe it," said Morris. "I have never had an employer tell me how to take care of patients, ever."

Centura declined the offer of an on-camera interview, but in a statement said, "The Colorado End-of-Life Options Act permits health care providers to opt out of assisting qualified patients in medical aid in dying. Centura Health, like many Colorado hospitals, opted out of the act based on our Christian beliefs to promote and defend the sacredness of every human life."

Jason Spitalnick, an attorney representing Morris and Mahoney, said Mahoney intended to end his life at home, not at the hospital, but that Centura forbids its doctors from participating in the process in any way.

Attorney Jason Spitalnick sits down with CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass to discuss the suit he filed on behalf of Dr. Morris and her terminally-ill patient, Neil Mahoney. (Louis Ramirez, CBS4)

"We are just asking a court to clarify the conflict between the law Colorado voters enacted and the policy that Centura as a religious organization adopted," said Spitalnick. "Centura is going to have to make a hard decision on whether its going to comply with its religious beliefs or Colorado law."

As the case works its way through the courts, Mahoney knows he likely won't be alive to see the outcome. He is in the midst of planning his own 'end of life' celebration and his funeral. He calls Centura's actions "a slap in the face."

Dr. Morris said she is ultimately hoping Centura's policy is changed.

"I think the issue is listening to the patient who is requesting a legal method of ending his suffering," Morris said.

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