Bill could help save lives

Mar 222006
Authors: James Baetke

It was 1986 when Bob Burnside lost his 17-year-old daughter after she took her own life, but the feeling of guilt still lives with him today.

“You think what you could have done different, maybe I could have flew a kite with her that one day that we didn’t,” Burnside said.

Burnside and his wife run the Suicide Prevention Intervention Network in Greenwood Village. They try to prevent suicides and also help counsel family members dealing with a loved one who took his or her life.

Burnside is in support of Senate Bill 67. The bill would require higher education officials to voluntarily offer a consent form allowing the institution to contact an emergency person if a university health care worker believes a student is considering suicide.

“The idea is good, as long as parents are not part of the problem,” Burnside said.

A current amendment of the bill asks for a two-year pilot program from two volunteering universities before making it statewide or ditching it all together.

State health statistics say suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24.

The bill was passed by the full Senate on March 8 and is currently sitting in the House for debate. Critics said the bill is an invasion of a student’s privacy, but Burnside said that argument could be simply remedied.

“You can opt out or go with it,” Burnside said.

Students would not be required to sign the consent form and if they do, Burnside said it might be better to include someone other than a close friend or parent who may be part of the conflict later on.

State Rep. Angie Paccione, D-Fort Collins, said the bill on the surface is positive but doesn’t want to rush into passing it.

Paccione raised some concerns when she first saw the bill. She wants to ensure that suicide prevention measures already in place don’t go by the wayside with a uniform law.

“I wanted to make sure we wouldn’t change the flexibility for things already working,” she said.

CSU already has programs in place designed to intervene with high-risk students who may show suicidal signs, Paccione said.

State Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, says the bill needs to be tested before this can be taken on by all state colleges. Bacon is also a member of the Senate education committee.

“There was enough testimony that some universities were not equipped enough while some were,” Bacon said.

In a Senate committee hearing in February, Ann Yates, president of the Colorado Citizens Commission on Human Rights, testified that most teen suicides do not occur on college campuses and suicide in not an epidemic.

“There is a great deal of potential to interfere with the life of young adults and with their potential to deal with the normal ups and downs in their lives,” Yates testified.

Burnside wants the bill to pass.

“Saving at least one life will be well worth it,” he said.

James Baetke can be reached at

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