DENVER -- Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved a right-to-die ballot initiative Tuesday, making it the sixth state in the nation to approve similar measures.
Modeled after Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, Proposition 106 will allow terminally ill Colorado residents with six months or less to live access to medication that will end their lives.
The measure will go into effect after the governor certifies the election, which is usually in early January.
"I became one of the proponents because I had given my dad my word that I would see this through," said Julie Selsberg, a proponent of the measure who felt the fight was deeply personal.
Her father, Charles Selsberg, was diagnosed with ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis two-and-a-half years ago, and she said he died suffering.
"He wanted to control how he died. He was very scared of an ALS death, of being of a sound mind locked in a dead body," said Selsberg, sobbing at the memory of her dad's decision. "The only thing he could do that was available to him that wasn’t a gruesome death was to stop eating and drinking. It took his body 13 days to shut down."
For years, state lawmakers have unsuccessfully presented right-to-die legislation, so supporters took their case directly to the people.
"This is a message to the legislature to do your job. It should have had to go to voters and millions and millions of dollars on both sides to pay for it," said Matt Larson, a Denver resident who became the face of the Colorado initiative.
Diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, Larson is fighting to live, but he wanted a choice if his cancer comes back.
"So, knowing that that's what I'm facing and having the option brings my wife and me a tremendous amount of peace and comfort," Larson said about the passage of Prop. 106. "It was an endorsement of personal liberty to take this away from the government and instead give it to the people it affects most and let them make that decision for themselves."
Opponents argued the measure did not have enough safeguards to prevent people feeling pressured to end their lives.
However, almost two-thirds of Colorado voters approved the measure.
Now, state regulators are determining how doctors can implement the new law when it goes into effect.
"The Colorado Medical Board is reviewing the language of Proposition 106 and will make revisions to Board rules and policy as necessary to comply with the law," wrote Lee Rasizer, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, in an email.
Selsberg said she kept her promise to her dad, but the success is bittersweet.
"My dad did not have this option, and he suffered. He suffered in his dying, and he suffered in his death," she said. "But it created a movement and a change, and it makes history. He wouldn't believe that it was started by him."
To be eligible for a prescription for medical aid-in-dying under the Colorado End-Of-Life Option Act:
- Must be 18 years old
- Must be in the final stages of a terminal illness defined as six months of less to live and confirmed by a second opinion
- Must be mentally capable
- Must request and take the medicine by themselves
- Must make two oral requests separated by a 15-day waiting period. A third written request, signed by two witnesses, is also required.