September 3, 2019
For immediate release:
On August 26, 2019, Dr. Barbara Morris, a primary care and geriatric physician with 40 years of experience, was abruptly fired by Centura Health Physician Group, at the direction of Centura Health Corporation, for placing the medical needs of a patient above her own livelihood.
Dr. Morris’s patient, Cornelius “Neil” Mahoney, has stage 4 adenocarcinoma—an advanced and incurable form of cancer that has spread throughout his body. Knowing he will face a painful and prolonged dying process, Mr. Mahoney determined that he wants to spare his loved ones the pain of seeing him suffer, choose where and when he dies, and pass away in the most peaceful manner possible under the circumstances.
In 2016, Colorado voters approved, 65% to 35%, Proposition 106. That enacted the Colorado End-of-life Options Act, which authorizes physicians to prescribe aid-in-dying medication to qualified patients to self-administer in order to achieve a peaceful death. The Act states that prescribing aid-in-dying medication is not assisted suicide or euthanasia. The Act contains an “opt-out” provision that permits hospitals to prohibit their physicians from prescribing aid-in-dying medication to patients who intend to use the medication on hospital premises. The Act does not allow hospitals to opt out of the Act altogether.
Centura Health Corporation prohibits its physicians from participating in any way in the process authorized by the Act—including (but not limited to) prescribing aid-in-dying medication for a patient to self-administer at home.
In 2018, Dr. Morris had expressed concern to Centura executives that Centura’s policy conflicts with the Act because it does not allow Centura physicians to write medical aid-in-dying prescriptions for use off Centura’s premises. In response, Centura acknowledged its Centura policy “conflicts with Colorado law” but is nevertheless “required by our religious beliefs.”
When Mr. Mahoney approached Dr. Morris in July 2019 and asked Dr. Morris to qualify him for aid-in-dying medication pursuant to the Act, Dr. Morris believed that qualifying Mr. Mahoney and writing him the requested prescription was lawful under the act and consistent with the medical standard of care. Dr. Morris believed that doing so would provide immediate comfort to Neil by ensuring that, if his suffering became unbearable, he would have the means to achieve a peaceful death. Many aid-in-dying patients are comforted to have the medication even if they do not ultimately ingest it.
Nevertheless, Dr. Morris informed Mr. Mahoney that Centura’s policy prohibited her from writing the prescription. Dr. Morris did not qualify Mr. Mahoney pursuant to the Act. Dr. Morris did not write Mr. Mahoney a prescription for aid-in-dying medication. Dr. Morris did not provide or perform any procedures or services related to aid-in-dying.
Because Dr. Morris had already tried, without success, to get Centura to reconsider its policy, Dr. Morris and Mr. Mahoney, on August 21, 2019, filed a lawsuit asking a judge to determine whether Centura can lawfully prohibit Dr. Morris from participating in the process authorized by the Act— including writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication Mr. Mahoney intends to self-administer at home. See Cornelius D. Mahoney and Barbara Morris, MD v. Centura Health Corporation, Case No. 2019CV31980.
On August 26, 2019, five days after the lawsuit was filed, Centura abruptly terminated Dr. Morris by written letter. The letter claimed that Centura fired Dr. Morris because she violated the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a document promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Directives state that Catholic health care institutions may not “participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.” But as the Act makes clear, medical aid-in- dying is not euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Centura’s retaliatory actions are prohibited not only by the Act, but also by well-established Colorado law permitting employees to freely access the courts and to participate in the judicial process without reprisal. By summarily firing Dr. Morris, Centura has broken the law and has irreparably harmed not only Dr. Morris and Mr. Mahoney, but also Dr. Morris’s over 400 other patients, who can no longer see the doctor of their choice.
Dr. Morris and Mr. Mahoney are represented by Denver law firm Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher, LLP.
Attorney Steven Wienczkowski of Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher, LLP stated: “Centura’s religious policy regarding aid-in-dying conflicts with the End of Life Options Act and other Colorado law. Dr. Morris and Mr. Mahoney merely asked a Colorado court to say so. Dr. Morris did not prescribe aid-in-dying medication to Mr. Mahoney and, contrary to Centura’s false statement in the termination letter, Dr. Morris did not participate in suicide or euthanasia. Centura fired Dr. Morris because she filed a lawsuit asking a judge to interpret Colorado law.”
Attorney Jason Spitalnick of Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher, LLP added: “Under Colorado law, corporations like Centura cannot practice medicine and cannot limit or control a doctor’s independent professional judgment concerning the practice of medicine. Centura has adopted a religious policy that interferes with Dr. Morris’s medical practice and judgment. Dr. Morris had the courage to challenge that policy in court and Centura fired her for it. Centura’s policy and its firing of Dr. Morris are both unlawful.”
Dr. Morris and Mr. Mahoney are also represented by Kathryn L. Tucker of the End of Life Liberty Project.
Attorney Kathryn L. Tucker of the End of Life Liberty Project stated: “The Colorado End of Life Options Act empowers Coloradans with terminal illness by providing the option to achieve a more peaceful death via medical aid-in-dying. It gives them control over how much suffering to endure prior to death. And while Colorado law permits a health care facility to prohibit a physician from writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication to an individual who intends to use it on the facility’s premises, Centura’s policy goes much further. It seeks to prohibit its physicians from prescribing aid-in-dying medication intended to be ingested by patients in the privacy of their homes. This is overreaching by Centura. Its policy would deny its patients a compassionate end of life option permitted by Colorado law and supported by a great majority of Coloradans.”
Dr. Morris is also represented by Denver law firm Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC.
Attorney Matthew J. Cron of Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC stated: “Centura’s conduct has only exacerbated the suffering of a terminally ill patient by depriving him of the medication he seeks, and which he is entitled to under Colorado law.”
Attorney Felipe Bohnet-Gomez of Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC added: “By firing Dr. Morris, Centura has also sent a loud message to Coloradoans that it will not respect the will of Colorado voters. Instead, Centura seeks to impose its own religious views on the countless Coloradoans who rely on Centura for medical treatment, not religious ministry.”
Jason Spitalnick, Steve Wienczkowski Foster, Graham, Milstein & Calisher, LLP firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com 303-333-9810 Attorneys for Dr. Barbara Morris and Cornelius “Neil” Mahoney
Kathryn L. Tucker End of Life Liberty Project firstname.lastname@example.org 206-595-0097 Attorneys for Dr. Barbara Morris and Cornelius “Neil” Mahoney
Qusair Mohamedbhai, Matthew J. Cron, and Felipe Bohnet-Gomez Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com 303-578-4400 Attorneys for Dr. Barbara Morris