Colorado voters legalized assisted suicide in a 2016 ballot measure. The law allows an adult with a terminal illness to request a lethal prescription from their physician. The person must be deemed mentally competent, and two physicians must diagnosis the person as having six months or fewer to live. The measure requires self-administration of secobarbital.
The AP reported Sept. 4 that Jason Spitalnick, who is among the attorneys for Mahoney and Morris, "pointed out that that the law says helping a patient get life-ending drugs does not constitute euthanasia or assisted suicide under the state's criminal code."
The law requires the official cause of death to be listed as a patient's underlying condition, not as an assisted suicide.
A facility may not subject its physicians, nurses, and pharmacists to disciplinary action, suspension, or recovation of privileges or licenses related to conduct taken in good faith reliance on the assisted suicide law.
The law allows health care facilities to prohibit its physicians from prescribing assisted suicide when the patient intends to use the medication on the facility's premises; the facilities must notify its physicians and patients in advance of its policy.
Centura issued a policy in February 2017 noting that it prohibits its employees from prescribing or dispensing medication for assisted suicides, or engaging in qualifying a patient for assisted suicide.
The policy does allow Centura physicians or providers to assist patients who request assisted suicide in transferring their care to a non-Centura facility.
The suit seeks a declaration that Centura may not prohibit Morris from providing assisted suicide, nor penalize her should she do so.
Morris' employment was terminated by Centura Aug. 26.
Kaiser Health News reported Aug. 30 that Morris "had planned to help her patient … end his life at his home."
Centura Health filed a request Aug. 30 that the suit be removed from the Arapahoe district court to the US District Court for the District of Colorado.
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Centura requested the transfer to federal court because the suit raises federal questions involving the First Amendment and federal statutes.
It noted that it is a religious organization, and that the doctrines of is sponsors, the Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist healthcare ministries, "govern, direct and inform" its activities.
The group added that when Morris signed an employment agreement with Centura Health-St. Anthony Hospital in 2017, "she expressly agreed that she would not provide any services 'that are in violation of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.'"
Morris told Kaiser Health News she was "shellshocked" at being fired, saying, "it seemed so obvious that they can't do it."
JoNel Aleccia wrote at KHN that "Morris said she understood that Centura was religiously affiliated when she was hired but didn't anticipate a problem."
Morris said that "I didn't think it was going to affect my general family practice. Until these conversations about medical aid-in-dying, I hadn't felt any interference."