DENVER – With tears in her eyes, Julie Selsberg offered a simple message to lawmakers Tuesday: “Please show mercy on the truly ill.”
After watching her father suffer a losing battle to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Selsberg said it is time for the Legislature to offer terminally ill Coloradans the right to end their own lives.
At a news conference Tuesday at the Capitol, in which lawmakers announced plans to introduce the “Death with Dignity” bill, Selsberg told her story.
The legislation was introduced Tuesday afternoon in the House.
“My dad wanted this option, and now I know there are a lot of other people who want this option – he was not alone,” Selsberg said.
Her father, Charlie Selsberg, died last year at the age of 77. Before his time came, Charlie Selsberg wrote a letter to The Denver Post called, “Please, I want to die.”
A handful of lawmakers have taken up the cause for Charlie Selsberg. The bill they introduced is modeled similar to a law that took effect in Oregon in 1997.
The Colorado proposal would require that a patient be diagnosed as terminally ill, two doctors determine the patient is about six months from death, the individual must be able to self-administer lethal dosing, and the person is determined to be mentally competent.
“This bill represents a personal freedom,” said Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, one of the bill’s three sponsors. “For others who cannot find relief from intervention, we must offer another choice.”
But sponsors and their supporters are going to face opposition from those with religious and moral concerns, as well as those worried about an abuse of the system.
Colorado Citizens For Life, a pro-life group, called the proposal “assisted suicide” and said there is nothing dignified about the practice.
“Colorado should not turn doctors into killers,” said Steven Ertelt, president of Colorado Citizens For Life. “Assisted suicide preys on the disabled, the elderly and people dealing with advanced illnesses.
“When death is presented as a solution for illness or advancing age, it represents a society that is turning its back on the medically vulnerable who are at risk of depression or mental-health concerns and worried about the future,” Ertelt said.
But Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, defended the health-care system. She said the bill is not a reaction to any perceived failures.
“I don’t feel that this is because the system has failed with the individuals,” Court said. “Individuals have the right to ask for whatever care they can get, and if an individual says this is what I want, that individual’s desire should be respected.”