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Hawaii House Passes Bill To Legalize Doctor-Assisted Suicide

Move Paves Way For Senate Passage


Hawaii could soon become the sixth state to permit physicians to prescribe life-ending medications to terminally ill patients.

The Hawaii House of Representatives passed a bill legalizing the practice this week and moves a step closer to allowing doctors to help mentally capable patients with less than six months to live end their lives.

The measure now heads to the state Senate, where it is expected to win approval. Democratic Gov. David Ige signaled that he plans to sign it when it reaches his desk.

The Our Care, Our Choice Act (HB 2739) allows patients to request prescriptions for lethal doses of medications. To obtain such drugs, a patient must submit one written request and two verbal requests a minimum of 20 days apart to his or her doctor. Two witnesses who attest the patient is of sound mind must also sign the written request.

Patients must self-administer the drugs.

The bill — which was opposed by nine Democrats and three Republicans in the 51-member House — also requires a qualifying patient to receive counseling from a psychiatrist or psychologist after two physicians confirm his or her prognosis.

Death with Dignity executive director Peg Sandeen told the Honolulu Civil Beat that her advocacy group is “exceedingly excited about Hawaii.” The group has since launched a “thank you” campaign for state representatives who supported the bill.

Members of the legislature heard hours of emotional testimony and received dozens of letters on the matter.

Caregiver Kat Brady testified before the Health and Human Services Committee in support of the bill because she watched three loved ones die “excruciating deaths.”

“The most important thing I learned as a caregiver is that everyone has the personal autonomy to say, ‘no more,’” Brady said.

However, Dr. Craig Nakatsuka, a hospice and palliative care physician and spokesperson for Hawaii’s Partnership for Appropriate Compassion and Care, said physician-assisted suicide is unnecessary due to advances in palliative care.

“In my firsthand experience with caring for those with terminal illnesses, I have found that in virtually all patients, I can, with my expertise, control and manage well all the physical symptoms that accompany the last chapter of a person’s life,” Nakatsuka told the Health and Human Services Committee.

Hospice aims to provide comfort care and pain management for patients nearing death. Palliative medicine treats symptoms and side-effects of disease and aggressive treatments.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii submitted a letter to state legislators in support of the bill while also stressing the importance of palliative medicine.

“In order for physician-assisted death to truly be a choice, it must not be the only option,” wrote legal director Mateo Cabellero. “Patients must have access to information about pain medication, and palliative care must be readily available.”

Americans United for Life maintains that the bill threatens the most vulnerable.

“States have a duty to protect the lives of all their citizens, especially vulnerable people groups such as the elderly, ill, and disabled; and to maintain the integrity and ethics of the medical profession by rejecting assisted suicide,” according to the advocacy group’s media release.

Eva Andrade, president of the Hawaii Family Forum, a faith-based group opposed to such legislation, said that she is concerned about potential abuse of the elderly and the message it sends to young people about suicide. Andrade said the group plans to fight against it in the Senate.

“We will be here til the fat lady sings, and we do not believe she’s even warming up yet,” Andrade told the Honolulu Civil Beat.

California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, along with the District of Columbia, have passed similar legislation.

– Image courtesy Creative Commons