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Hawaii Becomes Sixth State To Legalize Physician-Assisted Suicide

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a physician-assisted suicide bill into law, making the Islands of Aloha the sixth U.S. state to legalize the controversial practice.

The Democratic governor signed the “Our Care, Our Choice Act” on April 5. Some terminally ill residents will be able to request life-ending medications next year.

“It is time for terminally ill, mentally competent Hawaii residents who are suffering to make their own end of life choices with dignity, grace and peace,” Ige said in a statement.

The new law (formerly House Bill 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 passed the state’s Legislature with bipartisan support — also requires a qualifying patient to receive counseling from a psychiatrist or psychologist after two physicians confirm his or her prognosis.

Kim Callinan, CEO of advocacy group Compassion & Choices, told The Huffington Post the bill helps protect patient autonomy.

“Patients see this law as a way for them to have autonomy at the end of life,” Callinan said. “What they’re most worried about is that they’re going to die suffering and in pain.”

However, such legislation is strongly opposed by the American Medical Association, Republicans, religious groups and disability advocates.

The Chicago-based AMA is the nation’s largest organization of physicians and represents nearly 200,000 doctors, medical students and residents. Its policy remains unmoved amid a national debate regarding the risks and benefits of physician-assisted suicide.

“It is understandable, though tragic, that some patients in extreme duress – such as those suffering from a terminal, painful, debilitating illness – may come to decide that death is preferable to life,” according to an AMA statement sent to Life Matters Media. “However, allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good. Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”

At least one group started a petition before the bill’s signing, garnering more than 18,000 signatures from people who oppose it.

Hawaii Family Forum, a conservative family advocacy group, delivered the petition to Ige, according to ABC affiliate KITV.

“We are very concerned that a lot of the concerns that were brought up by the medical community … the disabled rights community, they were not taken into consideration,” said Eva Andrade, the group’s president.

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

– Image courtesy the governor’s office.