A Colorado state senate committee recently defeated a bill that would have given individuals facing a terminal illness the right to perform a medically assisted suicide. This was not the first time such a bill was rejected in Colorado. A similar bill was defeated last year, based on concerns that some people might die needlessly after receiving an incorrect diagnosis, or that others would take advantage of the law to end their lives despite not having a fatal illness. Another fear was that family members who were beneficiaries to the patient’s estate would pressure them into choosing suicide so as not to deplete the estate of assets, given the high cost of medical and hospice care.
The bill would have required the patient to obtain the signatures of two physicians attesting to their condition as well as diagnosis of 6-months to live. It would also have provided for the secure return of lethal drugs if the patient had a change of heart.
Advocates pointed to Oregon that has had a right-to-die law since 1998. Other states with similar laws include California, Washington and Vermont. A Montana law allows physicians to use a competent patients’ choice to die as a defense against criminal charges. There are other states considering right-to-die legislation as well.
Implications for Estate Planning in Colorado
Living Wills or Medical Directives
Although Colorado does not allow for assisted suicide, there are still steps you can take to provide direction for how you would like to be treated at the end of your life. Most notably, by completing a legally valid living will. A living will is a type of advanced medical directive and can advise your family and medical team about your wishes regarding hospice care or if extraordinary measures should be undertaken to keep you alive after doctors have determined that death is imminent.
Colorado’s advanced medical directive or living will allows you to refuse medical care or life-sustaining procedures under certain conditions if you are unable to express them. A life-sustaining procedure is one that prolongs the dying of a patient by use of any device, medications or surgeries. These instruments have the following additional directives:
- Appointing the power of attorney to someone to carry out your wishes
- Disposition of your last remains
- If you want to donate organs and tissues
If you do not leave a medical directive or living will, your family can seek a court order granting guardianship so that someone can make these decisions on your behalf.
Living wills can be amended or revoked at any time. You should provide copies of your living will or medical directive to family members, primary physician, and to the medical facility where you may be hospitalized. Some facilities may require that patients use their own forms.
You may also wish to execute a CPR directive (also known as a Do Not Resuscitate request). This directs the medical facility and physicians to not employ CPR in case of an emergency where CPR would typically be administered. This can be obtained from your physician or the Colorado Department of Health. The directive should be prominently displayed wherever you or a loved one for which this intended is residing.
Medical Power of Attorney
Whether or not you want to provide detailed end of life instructions, everyone should grant a trusted individual a separate medical power of attorney to make broad or limited decisions on their behalf pertaining to medical care and treatment. Your agent would step in to make these decisions if you become incapacitated or unable to express them, whether you are terminally ill or not. If you do have a living will, you can authorize your agent to override your wishes if you would like that to be a possibility.
Estate Planning Attorney Dan McKenzie
Everyone should have an estate plan regardless of their age or physical condition. Of course, if a loved one has a terminal diagnosis, then a review of their current estate plan by a competent estate planning lawyer is imperative.
Dan McKenzie is a Denver estate planning lawyer who has been advising and drafting estate plans for his clients in the Denver area for years. Call his office today to discuss end-of-life planning or for any other estate planning strategies that can protect assets and carry out the wishes of you or your loved ones.