- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The (Boulder) Daily Camera, Oct. 25, on the state assisted suicide proposal:

Whether you call it “death with dignity,” ”assisted suicide,” or Colorado’s proposed “End-of-Life Options Act,” the subject of life’s final dance is fraught with existential moral questions influenced in many places by religious doctrine and traditions. These questions have been addressed by theologians and philosophers, physicians and medical ethicists, at lengths and depths that render any newspaper editorial simplistic and superficial by comparison.

Nevertheless, this complex question about how to deal with death once it becomes imminent and inevitable is now a Colorado ballot question - Proposition 106 - requiring us to consider whether, under carefully controlled circumstances, people diagnosed with a terminal illness and given six months or less to live should have the legal right to obtain medication that allows them to depart this earthly plane on their own terms in their own time.

Opponents are afraid of many unhappy possibilities, chief among them a slippery slope toward a general diminution of reverence for life that could lead to certain people - old people, sick people, disabled people - being considered expendable and somehow lassoed or coerced into premature death.

We don’t minimize these fears, ubiquitous as they are in dystopian literary visions of humankind’s future. Even to raise questions about the vast amounts of money spent on modern medical technology near the end of life, as former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm famously did, is to trigger dire warnings of “death panels.”

Fortunately, as we consider the much more limited question of patients for whom heroic medical efforts are no longer indicated, we are not flying blind. We need not be governed by guesswork or fear. We have data.

The Colorado proposal is based on Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, passed in 1997, which required, as Colorado’s proposed statute does, detailed reporting of its use. In 2014, for example, 155 Oregonians obtained aid-in-dying prescriptions. Of those, 105 used them to end their lives. In a state with a population of about 4 million people, that represents two-and-a-half one-thousandths of 1 percent.

In the first 18 years of its operation, a total of 1,327 such prescriptions were written and 859 were used. In other words, for about one third of the people who availed themselves of the option, just having the option was good enough.

Neither age nor disability may be used as a reason to obtain such a prescription. Disability Rights Oregon, which is charged with protecting the rights of the disabled, has never received a complaint of abuse or attempted abuse of the Oregon Death With Dignity Act.

There has been no sign of a slippery slope. Oregon’s law has not been changed or expanded in 19 years. It contains a host of protections, as does the Colorado proposal, ensuring a terminally ill person making such a request is mentally capable, free of coercion and aware of all the available options. The diagnosis of terminal illness must be made by two physicians. If there are indications of depression or other psychological issues, a mental health referral is required.

Another fear is that potential cost savings in medical care could influence decision-making around physician-assisted suicide. Two researchers, one a supporter and one an opponent of physician aid in dying, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that the cost savings are insignificant. These are terminal patients. Health care is devoted to keeping them comfortable, not to advanced, life-saving measures.

“Although we do not agree with each other about the ethics or optimal social policy regarding physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, we do agree that the claims of cost savings distort the debate,” Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Margaret P. Battin wrote.

Much of the literature in support of a right to die has focused on relieving unbearable suffering. But it turns out that pain management is not among the main concerns of patients who make use of Oregon’s law.

“As in previous years, the three most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were: loss of autonomy (91.4 percent), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (86.7 percent) and loss of dignity (71.4 percent),” the Oregon Public Health Division reported.

These are the issues that tip the balance for us. In a country built on a foundation of individual liberty, why should an individual facing a medical death sentence be obligated to lose everything precious to him or her as life ebbs away? Why should a free person not have the right to say, “Enough”?

It is the opponents of this right who would impose their values on others. No one is required to engage in this process. For all those who believe it inappropriate, there’s a simple solution: Don’t do it. Well-intentioned as they are, we believe these people have no right in a free society to tell others they may not decide of their own free will how the end of their lives must play out.

The Boulder County Medical Society agrees. So do the Denver and Pueblo Medical Societies. Once an opponent, the Colorado Medical Society commissioned an independent survey of Colorado physicians that found 54 percent in favor of medical-aid-in-dying legislation, 35 percent opposed and the rest undecided or neutral. As a result, the organization changed its position last month to neutral.

Washington state, Montana, Vermont and, most recently, California have followed Oregon’s lead with similar legislation. Slowly but surely, Americans are rejecting the notion that they must be passive victims to a process that often strips them of their dignity and autonomy.

This is an expansion of individual liberty, not a threat to it. We hope never to face such a choice, but if we do, we hope to have this option, even if we never use it. We endorse passage of Prop 106.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2f6DeaL

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The Greeley Tribune, Oct. 24, on penalties for UNC over alleged violations by the men’s basketball team:

The University of Northern Colorado has imposed penalties on itself in the wake of alleged NCAA violations by the men’s basketball team.

The penalties include a reduction in scholarships for the men’s hoops team, a handful of sanctions that will affect the way the team’s coaches recruit new players, plus a postseason ban and a financial penalty of $5,000.

That all sounds pretty severe. It should. Generally, universities with sports teams that have run afoul of the NCAA’s rules impose these kinds of penalties on themselves in the hope the NCAA won’t impose even more severe restrictions.

We’d love to offer our opinion about whether these penalties are appropriate. But we can’t. Indeed, fans and other members of the university community cannot judge for themselves whether UNC - a public university - has acted appropriately. The reason? More than seven months since former men’s basketball coach BJ Hill was fired and UNC announced it had reported serious violations to the NCAA, the university has not made public the type of violations that precipitated the firing and the penalties.

There’s a lot here that’s disappointing.

To be sure, we all root for the Bears, and we want their teams to do well on the field and the court. Certainly, that attention comes with some pressure to succeed. But UNC does not have the kind of high-profile athletic department where these kinds of violations are essentially expected. So it’s disappointing to see UNC tied up in such a mess.

Far more disappointing, however, has been the university’s secrecy in the wake of the violations. Only with a full and open accounting of all that transpired can the university truly move forward.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2eKSPJm

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The (Loveland) Reporter-Herald, Oct. 25, on raising Colorado’s graduation rate:

To great fanfare, the Obama administration announced recently that the U.S. graduation rate has reached an all-time high.

According to federal figures, 83.2 percent of high school students nationally finished their terms on time and emerged with a degree following the 2014-15 school year, the most recent year for which there are data.

It sounds like great news, but the picture isn’t as rosy at it might appear.

In Colorado, the graduation rate did not show an increase at all. More importantly, it came nowhere near the national level, with only 77.3 percent of students graduating on schedule. According to the education publication Chalkbeat Colorado, the state was the seventh-lowest nationally for its graduation efforts.

State education officials point out that if you add an extra year to the data - basically including a fifth year of high school for students - then Colorado’s graduation rate rises to nearly 82 percent. Unfortunately, they don’t discuss what the national graduation rate would be if that extra year were added across the United States.

In looking at how districts educate students and get them the skills needed to graduate, it’s important that Colorado isn’t graduating students who haven’t met the necessary standards to receive a diploma. However, data from the state’s higher education system note that a large percentage of students need remedial efforts when they enter college or university.

One effort already underway is work at the state level to streamline requirements across districts. One barrier reported is that districts sometimes differ in their requirements, which can push transferring students back a semester or a year. Such work is welcome.

In the world in which today’s high school seniors will emerge, the diploma will be the key ticket to post-secondary professional or trade training that will employ them in the future. The fact that more than one in five seniors won’t get that document on time will set them back for years to come.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2eQdNVQ

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