Last fall, Colorado citizens voted to legalize assisted suicide. And they voted for it on an overwhelming basis, with two-thirds of voters approving. The proposition was strongly opposed, particularly by religious and disability rights groups, but it was to no avail. Still, the measure is off to a rough start — two-thirds of Colorado hospitals are refusing to participate.
Centura Health, which is operated by Catholic Health Initiatives and Adventist Health System, is Colorado’s largest health organization, operating 15 hospitals and over 100 medical clinics and practices. They announced that they will not be participating in assisted suicide in any way. SCL Health, the second-largest Catholic health organization in Colorado, also is opting out. Finally, HealthONE, another major health care organization in Colorado, has also chosen not to participate, although they are not a faith-based system.
The two faith-based groups, Centura Health and SCL Health, both seem to have banned their doctors from prescribing assisted suicide medication to any of their patients at any of their facilities. This potentially could put them at odds with the new law, which requires religious institutions to allow discussion of assisted suicide, as well as prescribe the fatal medication, but Colorado conscience laws should protect doctors who refuse to participate. A provision in the law bars health systems from forbidding their doctors from participating in assisted suicide. Centura Health and SCL Health may be violating that provision, according to assisted suicide advocacy group Compassion & Choices. “From what we’ve seen, it appears that Centura’s and SCL’s policies go beyond what is allowed under the law,” Kat West, national director of policy and programs for Compassion & Choices, said. She also admitted that a legal challenge was a “distinct possibility.”
A third health organization has also refused to participate in assisted suicide, albeit not to the extent that the Catholic health groups have. While HealthONE will not allow patients to take the fatal medications on their premises, or disburse the medication, they have not placed restrictions upon their doctors.