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New study on medical aid in dying aims for improvements

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Eric Galatas

(Colorado News Connection) It's been almost eight years since Colorado passed a law allowing people with a prognosis of six months or less to live to seek medical aid in dying. A new study documenting people's experiences aims to remove stigma and help providers make improvements. 

Jen Currin-McCulloch, assistant professor at Colorado State University, is leading the effort. She said she's especially interested in hearing from caregivers about their grief experiences, before and after their loved one dies.

"To see where are they finding support," said Currin-McCulloch, "how can we provide additional educational materials for them, or additional support groups or services to help them in their healing."

Researchers are looking for people to share their direct experiences. 

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They want to know if the new law impacted their own or their loved one's hopes as they considered treatment options, and how the treatment affected their quality of life. 

And they want to document any barriers people encountered when trying to access care. 

Anyone willing to share their experience can contact Currin-McCulloch at 970-491-3931.

Co-investigator Kim Mooney founded and is the president of Practically Dying, an educational organization that helps individuals and communities navigate end of life options. 

She said study participants have found great solace in sharing their stories. Not only do the interviews become a part of their legacy, they know what they share will help others.

"They know that telling their story now may change things for people in a year," said Mooney, "that if they talk about how hard it was to find a doctor, that it may help people down the road have more access to doctors."

Just ten states and the District of Columbia have authorized medical aid in dying. As more states consider authorization, researchers hope the study will help policy makers create better informed legislation. 

Currin-McCulloch said a recurrent theme among the study's participants has been a sense of relief people feel when they get to plan their end of life. They can celebrate, and wrap up any loose ends.

"They bring the people that they care most about to their end of life," said Currin-McCulloch. "So there are parties, there are people there that bring pictures and videos. And so they are able to create the most beautiful possible experience as their last moments."