December 6, 2021

Protracted ‘assisted dying’ in Colorado

Very seldom do stories about the last moments of people who chose assisted dying emerge in the media. When they do, it is normally about a grieving but serene family around the bed of a loved one who takes a last, lethal drink, falls gently asleep, and dies quickly.

However, a Colorado widow told the Denver Post that her husband’s death in 2017 under the state’s End-of-Life Options Act was anything but.

Kurt Huschle had incurable bile-duct cancer and his pain medication no longer seemed to work. Reduced to a walking skeleton, he asked his wife Susan to help him die. They did the required paperwork and obtained the medication. According to a summary in the Daily Mail, this is what happened:

On the morning of July 16, a nurse arrived at their home and checked that Kurt stood by his decision. By noon, he was ready to go. Following the directions given, Susan mixed the contents of two small bottles into a bigger one and gave it to Kurt.

She had expected him to drink the drug cocktail, share a last hug, then pass away peacefully.

Instead, as Susan later told the Denver Post newspaper: ‘With every sip he’s choking and coughing, choking and coughing.’

After 20 minutes, she said, he began to gasp unevenly. He seemed to have lost consciousness. But more than four hours after he took the drugs, he was still alive.

Scared and upset, Susan called a doctor and asked for help. It was then the thought struck her that, like many dying patients, Kurt might still be partly conscious and able to hear her.

At 8.15pm, more than eight hours after Kurt took the drugs, he sat up in bed, retched and finally stopped breathing.

The death was very distressing for Susan. It was not the kind of farewell that she had imagined. She felt “numb, in shock, stressed.”

It’s impossible to know how often such events happen. Colorado does not gather information on how long it takes for people to die under the Act. 

One thought on “Protracted ‘assisted dying’ in Colorado

  1. In his special situation, Kurt needed a physician to give him the medication to die through an injection, that would have avoided all the unnecessary suffering while dying. In some situations, if it is about helping the patient to die because that is what he chooses, this form of help should be allowed as it is in most of the countries in which MAID is legalized.

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