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.