Aspen Valley Hospital decides to opt in to End-of-Life Options Act

If you go ...

What: Let’s Talk Life

When: 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23

Where: Aspen School District Theatre


It was the December after Colorado voters passed the End-of-Life Options Act in November 2016 that Aspen Valley Hospital’s board of directors voted to not have the facility participate in aiding in the death of terminally ill individuals.

At the time, the board, heeding the advice of hospital CEO David Ressler, voted to opt the hospital out of the law because it wasn’t prepared for the complexities involved.

At its November meeting, however, with 12 months passed since that vote to not have the hospital participate in the End-of-Life Options law, the board unanimously voted to opt in, making it the first hospital in the valley to do so. Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs decided in March not to opt in, but left the door open for future consideration. The law requires hospitals and other health care facilities to decide whether to participate in the End-of-Life Options Act.

“When we opted out there was always the intent to opt back in,” Ressler said Friday, noting that Pitkin County overwhelmingly supported Proposition 106. Statewide, the proposition gained support by a 2-1 margin; in Pitkin County, 85.5 percent of the votes were cast in its favor.

Now the hospital, along with HomeCare and Hospice of the Valley, which also opted in, have linked arms to better equip the public with an understanding of how legally aiding a person in dying actually works.

From 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Aspen School District Theatre, which is at the elementary school, a symposium called Let’s Talk Life will address issues related to assisted-suicide procedures.

“The health care landscape continues to evolve and change,” said Markey Butler, executive director of HomeCare and Hospice of the Valley, in a statement. “We are asked about all of these issues — advanced care planning, palliative care and Proposition 106 — frequently, whether in hospitals, nursing homes or when providing home care or end-of-life care in patients’ homes. The goal of this seminar is to provide the attendees with an overview of these three major topics.”

Three presentations concerning those issues will be made. Butler will speak about advanced care planning, Dr. Nichole Feeney of Grand River Health will address palliative care, and Aspen Valley Hospital chief clinical officer Lori Maloy will discuss Proposition 106. A Q&A panel will follow.

Under the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act, terminally ill Colorado residents can request medication from their physician. The patients must be at least 18 years old, have a prognosis of six months to live and have at least two physicians conclude they are mentally capable of ending their life, among other requirements. The patients must also self-administer the medication.

Even though Aspen Valley Hospital has opted in, individual physicians or staff members are not required to prescribe the medications or sign a death certificate if it goes against their cultural values or religious beliefs.

Also resisting assisted suicide has been the Catholic church, whose Archdiocese of Denver spent $1.6 million to campaign against Proposition 106, reported.

Only a few AVH staff and doctors have indicated they won’t participate, Ressler noted.

“Overall, a majority of our physicians will participate and support it,” he said.

Ressler said he expects a patient’s use of the Aspen hospital as the venue to end his or her life to be a rare occurrence, if it ever happens.

“I do want to emphasize that it’s actually exceedingly rare for a patient to utilize the medication in the hospital setting,” he said.

California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont, as well as Washington, D.C., also have laws allowing the procedure. Oregon was the first state to enact the law Oct. 27, 1997.

According to the website deathwith​​, 991 of the 1,545 patients in Oregon who received the prescription since the law was passed ingested it and died. Ninety-four percent of those patients died at home, while 90 percent were enrolled in hospice care. Seventy-seven percent of them had cancer, while 8 percent had ALS. Just one Oregonian has used a hospital to voluntarily die.