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Hawaii bill would allow medical aid in dying

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    Joe Herzog, who has stage four prostate cancer, tells his story to lawmakers today in Honolulu. Herzog is supporting a bill to allow adults who have a terminal illness to get a prescription for medication to end their lives.

As a stage-four prostate cancer patient, Joe Herzog has been considering how he might die and knows he could face intractable vomiting and starvation in the final days or weeks of his life.

As a retired veterinarian, Herzog believes he should have the same right that pet owners have to enable their feline and canine companions to die peacefully at home with medication.

Herzog, 57, was one of dozens of people to testify Wednesday at a hearing on a bill that would allow adult Hawaii residents who have a terminal illness to get a prescription for medication to end their lives.

“I’ve had a good life. I don’t want to have a nasty death,” Herzog said.

The Hawaii bill, which would allow the medication for people with a confirmed prognosis of six or fewer months to live, was modeled after a law in Oregon. To get the prescription, a patient would have to make an oral and written request.

Five states — California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — have laws to allow physician-assisted suicide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Opponents say people don’t have a choice about being born, so they shouldn’t have a choice about ending their lives. They also say ill patients may feel pressured to end their lives rather than be a burden to family.

Jack James, a cancer survivor, said he was undergoing around-the-clock chemotherapy, in constant pain and had lost 96 pounds in about a month when doctors told him they didn’t think he would make it through the night.

“I fought for life,” James said. “I don’t want this bill to put the flame of a life in people like me potentially out.”

In the emotional and sometimes philosophical hearing, many bill supporters shared stories about watching parents or loved ones drop to weights as low as 45 pounds or unsuccessfully attempt suicide while waiting for the inevitable.

Malakai Grange, a nurse, talked about treating a 25-year-old dying from AIDS who had unsuccessfully tried to end his own life.

“His dignity and his autonomy had been totally lost,” Grange said. “He was dying in bed, no control over his bodily functions, he had a few people who were helping him as well as hospice, however his condition had progressed to the point where there was no relief.”

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health unanimously passed the bill Wednesday. It goes next to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I’ve always thought this was a choice I wanted for myself,” said Sen. Rosalyn Baker, committee chairwoman. “I’ve seen too many of my friends with advanced stages in cancer waste away when they really wanted to be able to have that final control. I think choice in all areas is very, very important.”

The bill has wide support in the Senate, Baker said. The odds of it passing the House are about 50-50, said Scott Saiki, majority leader in the chamber.

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