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Cancer-stricken lobbyist Radcliffe files right-to-die suit

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  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2013

    John Radcliffe, 74, is asking the court to declare that Hawaii’s murder and manslaughter laws do not apply when a physician helps a mentally-competent, terminally-ill adult patient who chooses to die.

Longtime state political lobbyist John Radcliffe has stage four liver and colon cancer and wants to choose when he dies.

He already has chosen a doctor to help him, but he doesn’t want the doctor to be criminally prosecuted. So Radcliffe, 74, is asking the court to declare that Hawaii’s murder and manslaughter laws do not apply when a physician helps a mentally-competent, terminally-ill adult patient who chooses to die.

Radcliffe; the physician, Dr. Charles Miller; and Compassion & Choices, a national nonprofit advocate organization for terminally ill patients, are suing to prevent Miller from being prosecuted.

They filed a lawsuit in state court today asking for a declaration that the state’s murder and manslaughter laws are unconstitutional in cases like Radcliffe’s and that the practice of medicine does allow for medical aid in dying.

The lawsuit names as plaintiffs the state, Attorney General Douglas Chin and Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro.

In response to a question from state House Judiciary Chairman Karl Rhoads, Chin offered an opinion last month that a physician who prescribes a lethal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient at the patient’s request could be charged with manslaughter.

Kaneshiro’s department would be tasked with prosecuting the physician.

Chin said the physician also could be sued for medical malpractice and face professional discipline. His predecessor provided the Legislature an opinion in 2011 that the state law does not allow doctors help terminally-ill patients to die.

Radcliffe, Miller and Compassion & Choices was scheduled to announce Thursday their legislative strategy for providing terminally-ill patients the option of obtaining a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their suffering becomes unbearable.

The 2017 Hawaii Legislature is scheduled to convene next Wednesday.

So-called death with dignity, or physician-assisted suicide legislation, have failed in the past on religious and moral grounds. One medical argument that was used to defeat the legislation is that advances in pain management have lessened patients’ suffering.

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  • I hope this flies! I too believe in the Right to Die. Here’s one example, if being bed ridden why would I want to prolong my life while lying in bed unable to take care of myself? If I’m sane, sign a piece of paper that I “choose to end my life because of my immobility”. And if at an old age why not as their is no potion to restore one to their youth!

    • Another example of the “throw-away”, “give-up” culture of today’s society. Pass these death laws and it brings us one step closer to choosing which embryo’s to destroy and which to use to fertilize. Humanity will suffer far greater consequences than the patients who choose the easy way out. Man up and die with courage.

      • I disagree with your statement of “man up and die with courage”. That is exactly what Mr. Radcliffe is doing. He is manning up and fighting both the cancer and our laws which is preventing him from making decisions on how he wants to die. He could just “give up” like you said and refuse to fight and pass on but he is choosing to fight to go out the way he wants to not only for himself but for many people that will come after him. To me that is courage.

      • Marcus: Clearly, you have not suffered from Stage 4 colon cancer! My family member went through this last year. The pain and agony that he suffered was indescribable. A right to die option would not have been a “throw-away” and “give-up” mindset…, my friend was an intelligent, self-determining individual who wanted the option of making the ultimate decision about his life. Instead, he was made to suffer unnecessarily while self-righteous jerks like you pontificate, pain-free about other people’s horrendous illnesses.

    • agree with Pocho. Libertarians need to stand up and be heard. Keep the government out of your deathbed. This issue is an individual choice with advice from a doctor, ministers, family, etc.

      • Allah, I agree, but too often–and I went through it with my spouse, a lot of terminally ill people,as you state, don’t have the strength nor capacity to do it. As an aside, I wonder what the life insurers have to say on this on a policy that will not pay on suicide????

    • He seems to be perfectly capable of taking his own life on his own.
      It is almost as though he wants someone else to share this responsibility.

      If you have not already read it, I would suggest reading Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
      It helps to explain the other side to this complex question.

      • I know how unfeeling this must sound.

        But there is something in the arguments for so called “death with dignity” that sound wrong to me, especially when they are papered over with noble-sounding terminology.

        Perhaps it is where this could lead to: the state deciding when someone should die, or those who would benefit from an estate.

        I know that Euthanasia is already not that uncommon. Directives to not administer life-sustaining treatments have been interpreted to include hydration and food.

        Some have tried to characterize the arguments against Assisted Suicide as being religious, and cited the separation of religion and state. But I find that arguments for it are based on a belief system that is just another religion.

        I don’t know the answer.

  • I was shocked upon reading this article, as I knew john as a neighbor a number of years ago. He was always the nicest, most congenial guy you could ever meet. He certainly does not deserve to suffer. No one does.

  • Nothing stopping the doctor from prescribing medication in therapeutic doses for pain management. If the patient chooses to take more than the prescribed dose, then I don’t see how the physician could be held responsible for the patient who took it upon his/herself to OD on prescription drugs.

  • i have worked alongside john on many issues. he is an honorable man who spent his career improving the lives of many who lived and will live in hawaii.

    incurable stage four cancer will painfully havoc john’s body eventually leaving him unable to eat, sleep, walk or even be transported without punishing him severely.

    each day as his undernourished sleep deprived body withers away, he loses a bit more of his dignity, mobility and ability to enjoy life. yet, even in his present frailty and suffering, he offers himself up to hawaii lawmakers in a last effort to improve the quality of life for others.

    victims of incurable cancers should not be forced to endure the massively lowered quality of life and the loss of dignity that accents the punctuated episodes of unbearable pain of the disease. eventually, the only pain management left is a morphine induced coma, administered without the cancer victim’s knowledge. that is not living. that is dying. let terminal cancer victims make their own determinations of how and when to accept death.

    hawaii offers women the right to choose to end the lives of others – hundreds of innocent babies each year. hawaii should also allow terminal cancer victims to choose to end their own lives on their own terms.

  • C’mon where are the liberal left on this issue involving human behavior? The right to die is an expression of right to leave this world. If one can burn his country’s flag as an expression of his right what is the difference. What about one’s sexual preference? The list goes and on? California just passed the right to die and so has Oregon and other States. There is no cure medically for what this gentleman is facing.

  • The is no stage 5. John is already moving toward death. This case will be heard after John is gone. That is the way of the world. John, do what is right for you. One should always be able to control their own destiny. God speed and best regards. Additionally medicine is not given to one that wants to die or to prevent his death. On the contrary, medicine is use to heal or prevent illness. John, does not want medicine, he was some drug or method, not medicine, to aid him in committing suicide. Nothing to litigate. Pass an assisted suicide law.

  • How is this a crime if a “sane” person wants to end their miserable and painful life? Spare family and friends the pain of watching and caring for them. The patient is not the only one that suffers in this situation.

    • OMGHawaii, mahalo for raising the biggest reason of all for legalizing physician-assisted suicide. For many, it’s not so much a matter of avoiding personal pain and suffering but of freeing family and friends from the agony and burden of caring for them and watching them die slowly. When their time comes, they want to be able to say aloha without burdening loved ones and with as much dignity as possible. C’mon legislators! Help braddah John in his heroic quest to allow all of us the right to die with dignity.

      • Totally agree with you, kimo. I watched my 82-year-old dad suffer for 2 years after doctors removed part of his stomach due to cancer. No food or drinks through his mouth. Tube fed through his nose. Bedridden all that time. Went from 160 down to 80 pounds. Skin on his body so dry, you had to be careful if you tried to move him because the skin would peel off.
        That’s not how I want to go.

        • Paniolo, mahalo for sharing this story about your father. It was double hard for him, the long suffering and having to see his children watch him die so slowly. It made you, the children, strong, but no family should have to go through that. The law has to change, hopefully soon enough to save John from a long and painful death.

  • “So-called death with dignity, or physician-assisted suicide legislation, have failed in the past on religious and moral grounds.” Why are we letting religious dogma dictate our laws? This is why we must keep religion out of our government. When the government chooses one religion over another, you no longer have “freedom of religion”.

    • dontbelieveinmyths, you make the best argument for death with dignity by going to the basic issue: religious interference. Our founding fathers were wise enough to realize, as you say, that “we must keep religion out of our government.” Physician-assisted suicide is a legal matter, to be decided by legislation. Religious beliefs are a separate matter. Regardless of their numbers or loud voices, true believers don’t have the right to force their religious beliefs on all the people.

  • Very sorry to hear about your terminal illness, John Radcliffe. I hope your quest is successful so that terminal patients who are suffering have this option. I have seen too many people die from cancer, and the peace and relief on their faces as they pass have been consoling to family members who know that their suffering is finally ended. Good luck, and I hope you find relief.

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